When it comes to sharing information with colleagues or employees, American psychologist, Carol Gilligan, puts it best: “I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.”
Truly, these real conversations can only happen in environments where an organization or company values openness, transparency, inclusion and alignment. It comes down to the fact that people – on every level – want to be included and they want to be informed.
From an organizational perspective, it is important to continually give people permission to “clear” – the chance to ask about anything. Without this freedom, they will be left listening to rumors or simply left in the dark. What’s worse, given a void in information, people will make something up to fill it. This can cause all sorts of havoc.
That said, consider these practices when it comes to sharing information. They can overcome cultural habits that discourage questions and complaints, or layers of management that obscure the view for most employees.
- Ask your managers to put an agreement in place with their staff to encourage more questions. This is what I recommend as an agreement: If you are curious, wondering, anxious or concerned about anything, please ask. I promise to tell you the truth.
- Share what you know. Don’t make people ask the perfect question to get access to all of the information you possess. Constantly think from the perspective: What else would they like to know but haven’t asked about?
- Start meetings with a clear request for participation. Make it a standard practice to remind people that you would like them share their views, questions, and concerns on each topic. I often phrase it in this way: Sometimes, it might sound as if I don’t want questions, or we might be getting behind on our agenda, but please don’t let this stop you from asking for the clarity and understanding you need.
- Build more time into your meetings. If people feel like the meeting is going to run late, they tend not to ask all of their questions. Reduce the number of topics on your agenda and add 15 minutes to ensure clarity and understanding. Slowing down in the short term will pay off in the long term as you create a culture where people realize that you do want to know what they think.
- Consider those not present. Ask the people who are present if they can think of anyone who would like to know about what happened in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, ask for volunteers to communicate with people who couldn’t be at the meeting.
- Add extra time on global calls. When you can’t see people physically or if English is their second language, allowing plenty of time for people to speak is vital. Double the amount of time you put into your agenda to ensure people will ask questions so they can reach understanding.
- During times of change, share more information and be available for questions. In order to deal with change, people need clarity, not certainty. Most managers make the mistake of waiting for certainty before being in communication with their people – too late. Talk to your people before you know how it is all going to turn out. You can always tell them what you know right now, the process that is being followed, and when you will know more. That clarity will go a long way towards reducing the angst in the organization.
- One thing to watch out for. Avoid long answers and lengthy explanations. Don’t add detail that isn’t necessary. This is about being available and then answering every question until your staff doesn’t have any more questions. And it’s always good to practice focused speaking—which means your speaking is clear, concise, and relevant.