His name was Todd, but I was to call him Mr. Donnelly while everyone else called him Todd. I was a receptionist in my first full-time job after college and was determined to climb the corporate ladder quickly. I was keen, excited, and incredibly disappointed.
Mr. Donnelly viewed himself more as my parent than my boss. He intimidated me and often treated me as a child. We needed to have open communication, and we didn’t. I didn’t feel I could discuss it with him, and he certainly didn’t initiate it with me.
Open communication in the workplace is essential for productivity. When everyone knows what’s going on and no one is afraid to ask questions, you can solve problems faster, collaborate more effectively, and make better decisions. However, this doesn’t happen naturally—you must create it in your working partnerships.
To create open communication, you must first ensure that you:
- Create trust
Trust is a necessary part of open communication. You won’t have open communication if you and your boss haven’t established trust. Trust isn’t given automatically and is often earned over time.
Be honest and open about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re doing about it. When you make a mistake, own it. When you need more information or help, ask for it.
Being respectful toward one another while working together (especially when disagreeing) will also help establish trust. Don’t badmouth the boss to friends or colleagues, and don’t betray confidences ever.
- Don’t avoid difficult conversations.
Having a conversation about a comment that was casually made, how important it is they don’t change their calendar without telling you, or even about your salary or title can be a little nerve-wracking.
Most people prefer to avoid conflict and tension. Instead, be professional and prepared when you need to have those difficult conversations. Avoiding creates tension in your work relationship and does not foster open communication.
If you are respectful in your communication, you should have enough respect for one another to have difficult conversations when required.
- Be honest
Not only do we need to create trust and have difficult conversations, you must be honest with each other.
To start, be honest about your emotions, thoughts, and actions. This can include:
- How you feel about a situation
- What you know or don’t know understand
- How you dealt with a situation (especially when it didn’t go well)
- What you tried (or didn’t try) in response to a situation
- Keep conversation focused
If you want to build relationships with your boss, then you need to respect their time.
You may have a friendly relationship where you ask about the weekend and family, but when you have your 1:1 meetings with your boss, generally keep the social chatter to a minimum. Know what you want to say, be prepared, and stay focused on the business conversation. When it is social time, be social; otherwise, stay focused on the issue you need to discuss.
Open and honest communication makes a workplace more productive and enjoyable.
Looking back at my first job, I admit I did quite a few things wrong. I felt he should trust me, and I didn’t go out of my way to earn his trust. I was never comfortable enough with Mr. Donnelly to talk about what I didn’t like at work (like I was the only one who had to call him Mr.). I never felt confident enough in myself or our relationship to put any issues on the table. I was so focused in our 1:1 meetings that I didn’t create any personal relationship with him, but not focused enough on our relationship to be honest about what I wanted and needed.
I learned the hard way, but I did learn. Open communication is essential for your success as well as the success of your partnership.