Innovation is the life-blood of today’s marketplace and so of the entire business world. Companies are transforming themselves everyday, not only with new products, but by using new methods of production and embracing creative solutions that increase efficiency and lower costs—in other words, by working smarter.
Innovative ideas seldom come as inspiration from the top, but instead are the collective genius of the members of organizations that foster open and free flowing communication. Ideas, big and small, freely expressed bump into other ideas and sometimes create a spark that ignites.
The Fruits of Open Communication
Employees on every level of an organization have experiences and information that is valuable to management. They offer:
- Ideas, suggestions, and explanations
- They have information to use in problem solving
- They can contribute essential information for decision making
The value of open communication is easy to see, but, as in all things, when it comes to creating an environment that encourages participation, the devil is in the details
Roadblocks to the Flow of Ideas
In a 2009 study by the Cornell National Social Survey, reported in the Harvard Business Review, 26 per cent of the respondents reported that they had sometimes held back from offering suggestions for improvement in their workplaces out of a sense of futility, and 20 per cent stated that they didn’t speak up out of fear of the consequences. One employee expressed a common feeling, “you can speak in a meeting, you can tell your manager. It doesn’t go any further.”
Creating an atmosphere that encourages participation requires an ongoing commitment to authentic communication. Employees must be certain that speaking out, whether to offer suggestions or expose problems, will not result in negative personal consequences. And even more importantly, they must see that their ideas and suggestions are considered and valued.
Concentrate on Receiving Information
How open is communication in your organization or department? That’s not an easy question to answer. You know what has been and is communicated, but you cannot know what is withheld. Even the most forthcoming staff member might think it is a waste of time to bring up some subjects. Continually improving and practicing communication skills is the key to a free flow of valuable information.
It is important to remember that communication involves both sending and receiving information. Based on the 26 per cent of the respondents in the Cornell Study citing futility as the reason for their lack of contributions, addressing the receipt of information is a very productive strategy for improving the participation level of employees.
When a person is truly listened to they feel valued and they are more likely to continue contributing to the department’s or organization’s goals. Listening actively to your staff sends the message that they and their contributions are valued.
Six Elements of Active Listening
Really listening, actively listening, includes the following elements:
- Letting others finish what they’re saying without interrupting them
- Asking questions to gain understanding
- Paying attention to what others are saying by maintaining comfortable eye contact
- Remaining open-minded about others have the right to their opinion
- Using feedback and paraphrasing skills
- Observing non-verbal signals such as the speaker’s facial expressions and body language
Actively listening to your staff is the first step toward engaging their full participation in your organization’s goals. It is then vitally important to properly acknowledge the ideas and suggestions that are received. All ideas are valuable. You never know when one might bump up against another to create a spark that ignites.
The course Communicating to Manage Performance is designed to focus attention on creating a climate of employee engagement through authentic communication. It gives attendees strategies and practice for many facets of communication. including teaching active listening, exposing “active listening flaws,” and properly acknowledging ideas and contributions.
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