Manager's Tips and Tools

by Manager Development Services

Creating an “Open Forum” in Your Workplace


As a manager, I have an “Open Door” policy, which creates an atmosphere in which my people know with no confusion and no fear what is expected of them, and that help is always available to them.  Any employee is not only welcome but encouraged to come to my office for a 1:1 anytime they need to talk – about anything.  My door is always open and I make myself available to them (after all, my most important asset is my primary concern).

I need to know when they are having difficulties, whether at home or at work.  I want to know what they need in order to identify problems, find and facilitate solutions, and initiate the footwork to get it resolved.  My main priority is to help them help themselves.  I will not do their jobs for them, but I will assist them in whatever they may need to do it themselves.  Any tool, any training, or any backup they may require; I will make happen.

I not only need but I want to know if there is anything blocking their focus, preventing understanding of their purpose, stifling their passion, or inhibiting their process.  My vision is to have my department excel and that cannot happen if I am not diligent in assisting each of my employees to excel (what affects one affects all).

If an employee of mine is disgruntled, I need to know.  I need for them to tell me why – what’s going on.  I can’t do anything about a problem until I first recognize a problem exists.  Only then can I take action.  A disgruntled employee, if left unchecked, will slowly poison the effectivity of the whole department.

I once had a receptionist named Stacy whose mood seemed to suddenly turn sour.  After two days, I called her into my office.  We sat down at the coffee table and I asked her what was going on.

After much prodding, she finally admitted that I had insulted her at staffing the previous Monday and even a few of her coworkers had commented on the incident.  Having no recollection of what I had said, I asked her to explain.

Apparently, I had implied she would never move out of her position as receptionist because she wasn’t capable of doing anything else other than answering phones.  I thought for a moment and partially recalled the conversation.

I leaned forward and told her she was right.  “Stacy, if I did say that, then I was insulting and cruel.  I am ashamed and I apologize from the bottom of my heart.  I can’t imagine saying something like that because I value and respect you not only as an employee but also as a person.  The last thing I would ever mean to do is to hurt you.

As a receptionist you are invaluable.  Stacy, you’re our first contact and our first impression to anyone calling in and you honor this department with your professionalism.  With your talents and abilities, I can see you being successful at whatever you chose to do.  Please forgive me.”

When Stacy left my office, we had a new and stronger relationship.  We had developed a stronger mutual respect.

What was important was that I didn’t defend myself.  Though I figured that whatever I had said had been misinterpreted, it didn’t matter.  I did not make excuses for my behavior, nor tell her she was wrong.  I paid attention to her, I listened, I let her speak, and I validated her feelings.  Then I apologized for the pain I caused.  Whether I misspoke or others misheard didn’t matter.  Someone I liked and respected had been hurt.

But it wasn’t over yet.  Since this happened in the presence of others, it needed to be resolved in the presence of others.

At staffing the next Monday, I apologized for my behavior again to Stacy and then to all the staff.  The result was my staff saw me as human, responsible, and safe to come to.

The truth is, I had misspoken and hadn’t meant to hurt anyone – but I had hurt someone and I had to set it right.  More importantly, I needed to be informed of my behavior and take responsibility for it.

A wise man is open to rebuke – to counsel.

– Proverbs

In an open and honest forum, it’s important an employee knows I am going to be completely honest with them, and I would appreciate if they could be honest with me.  I tell them that as long as I hear the truth, miracles can happen.  But if they aren’t going to be honest, then they’re just wasting my time, and more importantly, they’re wasting their time.

There comes a time when a person just gets tired of his or her own bullshit and realizes they’ve wasted precious moments of their life.  They realize all they’ve really accomplished is betrayal of their own self.

As mentor, I need to “open the cupboards” and lay everything on the table.  By letting others know who I am, what I want, and what I expect, I level the playing field.  No longer in the dark, people have the information to make healthy choices for themselves.  And along with choosing, become responsible for their choice.

While in my office, I let them know that what’s said in here – stays in here.  I invite them to vent and provide a safe place to lay everything on the table because if I don’t have all the information I can’t make healthy choices either.  I tell them it’s not only OK to think outside of the box, but it’s preferable.

I want to uncover the warts, identify the problems, and live in reality because it’s the only way real growth happens.  I am going to be rigorously honest and encourage them to be as well.  I will say what I mean and mean what I say to the best of my ability (making an effort to be assertive, not aggressive) and I want them to do the same.

When we stop judgments, prejudices, defensiveness, and fear, we communicate on the Fifth Level (chapter 11) and become real.  All our energy and focus can then be applied to the task at hand.  When we communicate effectively, problems become more readily solvable, relationships are healthier, and stress is reduced or eliminated.

How to be Direct in Communication

1.  Identify the issue at hand – Both parties must understand the issues at hand.  This is best done by clarifying the issue and the position of each party, asking for feedback, and agreeing to stick to only one issue at a time.  Tackling more than one issue at a time causes confusion and defocus from the problem at hand.

2.  Be specific – Stay away from generalizations. When I generalize, I have a tendency to label the other person rather than their action.  I end up attacking their character.  This triggers defensiveness in them instead of cooperation. 

3.  No name calling – If I find myself calling someone a name I need to realize that I am not even attempting to communicate.  What I’m really doing is expressing aggression and I can only expect them to defend themselves.

4.  Don’t interrupt or give long speeches – If I find myself interrupting or making long speeches, I must accept that I am not trying to communicate, but rather I am attempting to control the situation.  No one likes to feel controlled.

5.  Don’t assume I know what the other is thinking or going to say. When I mind read I am not trying to communicate.  I am really trying to dominate and control.

6.  Schedule a time and a place to talk. To avoid “Hit & Run” attacks, I need enough time and a place free of distractions to confront an issue effectively.  This shows the other person the issue is important to you and worthy of attention.

7.  Recognize and respect “Belt-Lines.” Like name calling, there are certain areas (hot buttons, triggers, and subjects), which will sabotage healthy communication.  Hitting someone “below the belt” will only cause retaliation – not facilitation.

8.  Take a break. Either party has the right to call for a time-out to calm down or get his thoughts in order.  If I feel either party is beginning to escalate, it’s better to take a break or even reschedule another time before continuing.

9.  I must state what I think as opinion and not fact. Since everyone only sees reality the way they are, I must accept that my perception is not necessarily theirs.  I must be open to the other person’s point of view and attempt to see value in it.  We both probably have validity to some degree in our thinking.  We just need to accept the similarities and resolve the differences.

10.  Use “I feel” statements. I must speak for myself and not quote anyone else.  The fact that I feel something is good enough. I don’t need to use authorities or consensus to back me up. I must claim my own feelings and actions.

11.  Stick to the present issue. If I still have problems with old grievances, then I need to deal with them separately.  Dragging them out of “moth balls” to back me up with this issue shows how weak my position on this issue must be.  Also, if I’m still carrying around “old garbage,” I need to ask myself, “Why?”

12.  Respond, don’t react. I don’t give away my power any longer by reacting.  By disconnecting my buttons, the other person has no control over me.  Remember: only one person fighting looks and feels like an idiot.

13.  Feedback. To avoid misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misspeaking, ask for and give frequent feedback (chapter 8).  “Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand you are saying…”   “What did you hear me say?”

14.  No contests – no battles. When I try to “win” in an argument or discussion, I am putting the relationship in jeopardy.  Every contest or battle will have a winner and a loser and in a healthy relationship there should be only winners.  If all I am doing is trying to prove myself right, we both lose.  My motivation should be cooperation.  And I must be willing to negotiate a solution.

15.  Follow-up checks. There are usually more solutions to a problem than you think of at the time of discussion.  After time to mull it over, I am allowed to change my mind and I must afford the other person the same courtesy.  I need to check with the other party later to make sure both of us are still satisfied with the outcome.

16.  Be willing to ask for help. I shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for help if I am having a difficult time coming to a satisfactory solution.  Even therapists need help at times.  None of us have all the answers.

Remember, you have the right to be heard, to express yourself – your opinions, your feelings, your values.  Your wants and needs are important.  You deserve respect for who you are.  By giving respect to others, you are more deserving of respect for yourself.

excerpt from “Managing from the Heart – A Way of Life”

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April 25, 2011 - Posted by | Manager Development Tools

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