Why won’t you be open with me?

Frank Newberryin Consultancy

FrankNewberry.jpgLet us pause for a moment and make a list of some of the things we would like to be able to discuss more openly in the workplace: wages and salaries perhaps, terms and conditions, job security, promotion prospects, why we need to do some tasks in a certain way, how key decisions are made, why some decisions are delayed, how we are getting on as an enterprise in the recession, what about those people who are not pulling their weight in the team, and that favouritism I have noticed, to name but ten.

Why don't we always talk about these topics openly at work? Why do things have to reach a crisis point before anything is said? Why do some supervisors keep so many things to themselves? Why do team members gossip about a colleague, but will not tell the person to his/her face? Why does everyone in the team discuss the boss's performance, but never include the boss in these discussions?

Why? Because of fear. Fear of setting a precedent, fear of being seen as soft, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being found out ... please add to your list any other fears that you think might apply.

Fears lead to conspiracies, rumours and gossip. Managers refuse to discuss certain things and staff keep quiet about other things. Rumours and gossip can cause fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety can damage morale. When morale suffers - performance suffers. All because we are afraid of discussing some things at work.

I can vividly recall the remarks of a fellow consultant, named Nick, who had been called into a big airline company to help them with what had been described as a 'communication' problem. Some serious and embarrassing breakdowns in communication had been reported that led to concerns about the way information was shared in the company.

Part of any consultant's work is diagnostic and, so, Nick began by asking questions like "how long" they had had the problem (ever since anyone could remember); "what had been tried already" (nothing much) and what sort of information was not being communicated effectively.

On this last point, Nick gained some real insights. The company had been formed after World War II and most of the managers had previously been in the RAF where, during the war, because of the very high security levels, people were only told things on a 'need to know' basis. The person who had information to share would decide who needed to know the information and would then tell only them. If they were in any doubt about whether a particular person should be told, the rule was - don't tell them.

This led to a culture of secrecy, as the company grew, which lasted until the present day, or certainly until the day Nick arrived. Nick pretty soon began to go through something like our list of topics above to check what was 'discussable' by people at all levels in the company.

He got as far as 'wages and salaries' and was interrupted by a person who said; "You can stop right there Nick. You need to know that there are some things in this organisation that are so undiscussable that their very 'discussability' is not discussable." Not much openness there then.

There is also research that tends to suggest that we fear the reaction our openness might get 'in the moment', and then the negative consequences that might follow after we have been open. Like me, you may have personal experience of your openness being punished.

Wouldn't it be great if we could feel confident enough to say whatever we like to anyone, without fear or worry that it will be taken the wrong way or used against us!

Of course, we sometimes come across people who are very blunt and like to 'call a spade a spade'. However this 'spade calling' is often done in a crude 'there you are, I've said it now' kind of way, which can cause people to take offence at what is said. Worse still, people can then harbour a grudge forever, or never take that person into their confidence again. Why? Because just blurting something out only eases the frustrations of the 'blurting' person, it rarely helps the other person or the situation they are in.

As I have said in these pages before, it is great to be kind and good natured as are most people in the turfcare professions. But, sometimes, things have to be said clearly and openly so that we can have the kind of effective communication that will lead to improved morale and a better performance from the work team.

In the next article I will look at the sophisticated ways that people avoid being open and honest, and what we can do to improve our own openness and the openness of others at work.

Frank Newberry has been helping people in the turfcare sector to get better results for over twenty years. If you are facing a situation that needs more openness and honesty, and you think it might help to speak to someone, you can contact Frank by email or by telephone via the contact tab of his personal website which is www.franknewberry.com

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