After you've surrounded yourself with the best talent you can find, creating an environment that stifles open communication can render that investment useless.
Perhaps your employees are afraid to give you honest answers about your business or feel like they need to agree with every idea you have (no matter how ill-advised). If that's the case, your business could be suffering because you're not getting the value of their expertise, creativity, and insight. Bruce Todd Strom, a Boise, Idaho business consultant, says there are a few ways to get your team comfortable with telling you what you need to hear instead of only what they think you want to hear.
1. Don't overreact. It's never fun to hear bad news or smile while someone is telling you that your latest idea--well, it's pretty bad. However, if you are argumentative or combative every time someone else delivers criticism, you're going to stifle honest feedback, Strom says. Pay attention when an employee is speaking to you and refrain from becoming defensive. If you feel like you can't respond favorably or even neutrally, thank the person for speaking up and say you'd like to discuss the matter more later. Taking a break before you respond will give you some time to calm down and be more objective about the feedback.
2. Welcome criticism. Strom reminds business owners that it may seem obvious that you're open to suggestions, but you have to tell your people it's okay to be honest with you. During meetings, invite feedback in a general way and emphasize that employees are also welcome to give their opinions -- no matter how critical they are -- in private. Some may feel uncomfortable criticizing the boss in front of others.
3. Be aware. Pay attention to what's going on around you and take your cues from the environment, says Strom, whose self-published book, Business Professionalism, was released in June. If no one has come to you with ideas or concerns lately or if you walk into a group and it suddenly goes silent, the problem could be you. Make sure you approach employees individually -- and in a nonthreatening way. Consider having coffee with one or a small group of employees every month to discuss ideas, which can create an informal and more comfortable atmosphere.
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