There was a time, within the lifespan of people now reading this article, when we would all bite our lips and accept that some things were not up for discussion in the workplace.
But that was then, and this is now. People are much more socially confident these days and more people are better educated than ever before. Nowadays, people are more open and expect others to be open with them.
So, when people (especially colleagues and bosses) are not open and honest with us, it can lead to a lot of frustration and anxiety. We may even feel that 'they should know better than to treat me this way'.
Avoiding by promising to speak, but then never actually getting around to it
An increased awareness of how others can, and will, react has caused many people, who fear the consequences of openness, to devise and deploy ever more sophisticated ways of avoiding being open with others. Here's ten to start you off. Please add any others, which you have experienced yourself that are not listed here.
1. Telling lies, that have some plausibility, to fob people off
2. Telling half-truths, that sound convincing, so that people go away
3. Distracting people with (say) humour or other issues to get them off track
4. Changing the subject or re-prioritising other issues, so that they talk about something else - at least for the time being
5. Delaying the discussion, as in 'I can't talk right now - I'll get back to you'
6. Claiming that they 'do not know the full picture' so cannot really comment
7. Quoting precedent, e.g. 'that's not the way we do things around here'
8. Avoiding by promising to speak, but then never actually getting around to it
9. Feigning sensitivity - 'I can't say anything, I do not want to risk hurt anyone's feelings - at this stage'
10. Claiming ignorance of a situation, but all the time avoiding finding out, as in 'Don't say anything to me - then I will not have to lie to keep people happy'
There is evidence that overwhelmingly supports the view that people want others to be open with them. Openness is seen as being far preferable to being 'kept in the dark' about something important.
Betrayal can live in the memory for a lifetime
People, on key matters, like bad news, can get very angry if information is known by others but withheld or not shared immediately. Not sharing difficult information can sometimes be seen as a betrayal, and betrayal can live in the memory for a lifetime.
We need some strategies that will, somehow, get the person - who is not being open with us - to feel more confident, and to believe that being more open is the best option for all concerned. If we, ourselves, are not being open when appropriate, then we need to understand that we may not just be part of the problem, we may actually BE the problem!
First of all, those of us in management positions need to set a good example of openness and honesty in the workplace. If you have ever been guilty of the sins listed in 1-10 above, chances are people have already found out that you can't deal with the truth, and morale and performance have already started to decline.
Five Key Strategies or Options
Strategies 1, 2 and 3 are mainly preventative, and 4 and 5 are principally remedial in nature. All can be a great opportunity for you, but will need to be done in private, and in strict confidence.
1. Set up Feedback Contracts
This is a good way to start being more open at work. It is usually done on a one-to-one basis, where two people agree how, and when, feedback at work will be given and received. People decide what news or information should be included, and the process can be undertaken regularly and then reviewed at agreed intervals.
2. Have a Team Discussion
This is very similar to number 1 above and, again, it is a good starting point for more openness. On this occasion, the whole team agree how and when feedback at work will be given and received. People decide what news or information should be included, what should be shared with the team and what should be done one-to-one. Again, the process can be undertaken regularly and then reviewed at agreed intervals.
3. Exchange Perceptions and Expectations
This is probably best done one-to-one, and is very useful when people are not as aware as they should be of the impact that their behaviour has on others. It is very important that this process is not one-sided or dominated by one person. It is important that both, or all sides, give their perceptions and expectations of each other at work. The process can be undertaken regularly and then reviewed at agreed intervals.
4. Set a Deadline for Disclosure, Data or Decision
This is probably best done one-to-one, and is very useful when damage has been done by people not being open, frustration has set in and performance is suffering. People meet privately and, one or more of them, imposes a deadline on the provision of the required disclosure, data or decision. One person says 'if I have not heard anything more from you by this date (person gives deadline date), I will assume (person gives his/her preferred version or a realistic outcome) and act accordingly when the deadline passes'.
5. Have an 'Off the Record with Clarity' Session
This is probably best done one-to-one, and is very useful when number 3 above has failed, or has been avoided, and people are getting very angry or upset. The process involves one person requesting an 'off the record' session with another person. 'Off the Record' simply means that people can say whatever is on their mind, how they feel etc. without it ever being held against them. Indeed, if reference is ever made to the discussion, both sides are free to say 'You are a liar!' or 'that discussion never took place'.
It can really help because people can say, for example, 'Would you like to know how your decision made me feel?' or 'Would you like to know what I thought of you at the time?' In my personal experience it can really 'clear the air' and is then over and done with … until the next betrayal!
Good luck with getting the important people in your life to open up, and good luck with being more open yourself. You may find that you are in a 'who goes first' situation. In my experience, it is better to go first yourself, that way you can set the level of disclosure you need from the other person.
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