Communication between managers and their subordinates is supposed to be the life-line of any company. Accurate feedback from your employers as to the effects and implications of proposed changes is essential to ensure that decisions made are effectively implemented.

But this is only effective if firstly your subordinates actually do communicate with you, and secondly if they feel comfortable in telling you the truth. If they don’t feel comfortable in being honest with you, if they don’t believe that you will be fair in your reception of bad news, or if they believe that you will discriminate against them – then you will never be sure that you will be receiving accurate feedback on the situation.

When you encourage and maintain open communication between yourself and your employees you risk hearing not only the news you wanted to hear, but also the news you would rather not have heard. But that is what open communication is all about, and you can’t shut it off every time something unpleasant happens.

So if knowing what is really happening is important to you then the greatest piece of advice is –
Avoid Isolation.

This is such an obvious one that I wonder why we have to continue to highlight it. But if you shut yourself away behind a closed door the flow of communication will stop right outside it. A closed door is a barrier to your employees and will effectively close you off from what is happening outside your castle gate.

Isolation becomes a greater problem the higher the executive is in the organisation. Subordinates can now have a stake in who reaches the executive; it is a measure of their status. A harassed top executive can also be grateful for being protected from what can be considered time wasting detail. A self-righteous air of ‘delegate all minor things’ can fill the atmosphere and living in an castle tower means you can only see what the windows show you.

Your employees need to know that you are open to listening and that should mean a metaphorical “open door” policy. Of course there will times when you have to limit access – but I believe that risking some unnecessary interruptions is better than the risk of missing a vital piece of information that can prevent a crisis erupting.

Your goal should be a system whereby essential information can filter through the necessary barriers between yourself and your subordinates. Striking a balance between too much openness and not enough is a difficult undertaking but everyone should know that they have the right and the opportunity to bring vital information to your attention.

But there also needs to be a willingness to listen and to accept the information if it comes from a credible source. There can be an unwillingness to credit bad news, especially if it concerns one of our pet projects.

In one company a vice president brought in a young consultant to establish a uniform policy for three separate field sales groups. The director of sales who reported to the vice president was aware of the lack of consultation with the managers of these groups, and that their concerns about the changes were not being addressed. Twice he brought these concerns to the vice president – with what result? He was told that he wasn’t giving the young consultant a chance, and that his continual criticism was affecting the field managers.

After that the sales director stopped trying to bring the problems to the attention of the only person who could solve them. Consequently two of the most experienced field managers left in disgust, and the changes created a mammoth headache for all concerned. The vice president blamed the sales director and wailed “Why wasn’t I told?”

So make a point of getting out of the castle once in a while and find out what is going on. Make the time to talk personally to people who are engaged in putting plans into place. Using the telephone is acceptable but email communication is not. This type of communication needs the direct touch.

Don’t punish the messenger – if you yell at the person that brings the disaster to you attention you will never get warning of the next one. There is a great difference between being incandescent with rage over the problem and taking that rage out on the person who highlighted it. Whether the news is good or bad, it should be received the same way. Appreciation is the only response that will ensure that your employers will report candidly and honestly on what is really going on.

The only time to be less than happy about receiving news is when you find out it has been withheld from you. But if you make it plain that you are not so fragile as to need protection from bad news, you should solve this.

However, and this can be tricky – be suspicious of continuous good news from an interested party. If you have delegated a difficult assignment to a subordinate and get nothing but glowing reports of progress and no hint of any problems you would be forgiven for being a trifle suspicious.

Now it could be true, and wouldn’t that be fantastic. But it could also be that the subordinate is withholding the problems. Get out of the castle and into the real world, talk to others involved in the project and if they are confident in your open policy you should hear what is really going on.

And if the subordinate is right, and all is going to plan and it looks like being a brilliant success heap praises on their head and mark them out for the future. But if, and this is more likely, that problems have cropped up of such a nature that you should have been informed, ask yourself why you were not. Perhaps the subordinate was concerned that you would withdraw your trust if you found out about them – and if so why did they feel this?

If you live in an castle either mentally or physically you will become an isolationist. A good manager or executive needs to know. They need to know what is going on around them; they need to be sensitive to changes in the atmosphere which forecast stormy times ahead!

Your employers will be quick to bring these storm warning to your attention if they feel that you value their input and appreciate their care for your interests. Open Communication is the life-line of any company, so how safe is yours?

Michele @ Trischel

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