How to Keep an Open Line of Communication with Employees

Open sesame!

Mike Dalley
Mike Dalley

HR and Learning & Development Expert

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

A manager keeping an open line of communication with employees

Open lines of communication at work are essential to any smoothly operating organization. They benefit the work your firm does, your employees, and you as a manager.

Keeping them open isn’t easy, as doing so requires constant effort and understanding the changing needs of your employees. If you’re looking for ways to drive open communication in your workplace, then this article will share with you everything you need to know.

We’ll cover what an open line of communication means, the benefits this brings to your organization, and 15 great ways to do just that.

What is an open line of communication?

Keeping an open line of communication ensures communication at work is easy, straightforward, risk-free and beneficial to all. It’s essential for any smoothly functioning business. It’s about approachability, encouraging dialogue, honesty and listening to employees.

Open lines of communication start with managers; they need to be the driving force behind it and build various communication channels that work for everyone in the organization, no matter their role, rank or background.

Managers also have an obligation to ensure that open communication applies to what is communicated as well as how it’s communicated. Transparency around feedback, company updates, and between stakeholders all contribute to open lines of communication.

The benefits of open communication

Open communication is truly a win–win: it benefits both the employees and the organization. Here are the five key advantages of open lines of communication in the workplace:

  • Collaboration and teamwork: Open lines of communication get employees talking. This is great for collaboration and teamwork. Additionally, employees are comfortable sharing ideas and feedback, and engaging in healthy conflict. This breaks down barriers and gets people working wonderfully together.
  • Creativity and decision making: Open communication means that leaders can solicit and gather more ideas from employees. This, in turn, creates greater opportunities to make better decisions. Employees can collaborate on decisions and give feedback on their suitability when communication is open.
  • Early problem resolution: Open communication is the perfect way to identify smaller issues before they become harder to fix. Because of a culture of trust and sharing feedback, employees are more confident in speaking out when things are not right, not only identifying challenges but also coming up with ways to creatively solve them together.
  • Employee satisfaction: Employees who feel listened to and are openly communicated to are generally happier at work. They are more informed and, therefore, better equipped to perform their jobs well. This creates a positive work environment, higher employee engagement, a stronger and healthier organizational culture, and higher retention rates too.
  • Trust and transparency: Open communication demonstrates to employees that your organization is honest and transparent, communicating good news as well as updates that might be harder to stomach. Employees will feel nurtured and cared for, and this increases trust in what you do, leading to more discretionary effort and higher work performance.

How to foster open communication in the workplace

There are so many ways to foster an open line of communication in the workplace. Managers should review these tips, and consider what might work best for their organization, as well as what communication needs to be evaluated and changed as the organization evolves.

1. Actively listen

Active listening is a cornerstone of open communication, as this underpins many of the other tips in this article. Active listening demonstrates to others that you’re willing and able to listen. It consists of behaviors like maintaining eye contact, visually engaging with the speaker, nodding, smiling, and taking notes where appropriate.

This also requires paraphrasing statements, and asking open and probing questions to learn more. By taking interest in what the speaker is saying, you’ll be regarded as an open communicator who can effectively use the information you’re keenly listening to.

2. Ask for anonymous suggestions

Seeking anonymous feedback is a great way to drive open communication. Many employees will feel uncomfortable giving direct and personal feedback about their workplace, so offering them anonymous channels to do so can help.

Ways to elicit anonymous feedback can include operating suggestion boxes, using employee forums or ERGs, engaging with unions, and conducting employee engagement surveys. The latter are especially useful to gather quantitative as well as qualitative feedback. Whichever way you collect anonymous feedback, ensure you act on it.

3. Assess the effectiveness of your communication plan

Whatever strategy you implement to drive open communication at work, invest time to analyze its impact and make adjustments as necessary. Assess the effectiveness of your plan by looking at work measures like productivity, engagement and customer service measurements, as this can quantitatively back up what you are seeing.

Also, talk with your team. These are the people that are directly impacted every day by your communication strategy, and if it doesn’t work for them, it’s not going to work for anyone. Be humble; tweak and adjust your plan if you need to.

4. Be open and transparent

Honesty and transparency are perhaps the most important ways to foster open communication in the workplace. If you don’t do this, or your organization is perceived as cagey or dishonest, nobody will want to communicate openly at work, and this culture might lead to other issues like high turnover.

Be honest and transparent by holding communication meetings to share both the rough and smooth news about your organization, as well as providing facetime with leaders and question-and-answer sessions. Be quick to update on company news, and be straightforward with all your messaging.

5. Choose the right tech tools

Today, technology stands front and center when it comes to open communication at work, especially if you’re managing virtual teams. You first need to understand how comfortable and confident your team is in using communication technology, and provide the right training and support as you work through the implementation process.

You also need to understand what you wish to achieve with communication technology. For example, Microsoft Teams works best for general technical needs, whereas Trello is better for project groups. Slack is great for collaboration, Hootsuite supports social media communication, and Salesforce is a good option for customer relationship management.

Research your needs and the costs involved, and ensure that whatever technological communication tools you use are properly invested in and used by all.

6. Effectively manage conflict

Conflict at work is inevitable, and a little conflict can actually be beneficial to open communication. Know when to step in and defuse conflict before it becomes distracting and disruptive, as at this point it can create silos and erode trust.

Provide safe spaces and resources for conflict to be used positively. For example, in team meetings, foster a culture of sharing and responding to ideas, and reiterate that no question is a silly question.

By building trust and transparency and becoming adept at managing employee relations, you’ll encourage team members to handle appropriate levels of conflict in a constructive manner that benefits the organization.

7. Enact an open-door policy

One of the most effective ways to openly communicate is implementing an open-door policy, where management is accessible to all and will allow employees to approach them in any setting for guidance, questions and advice. This form of open communication walks the talk and has a hugely powerful impact.

Ensure that an open-door policy is more than just buzzwords. Iterate to your leaders and supervisors that this is a core expectation of working in your organization, and request that every manager has time set aside from meetings and commitments to mix with the team. Ensure that you lead by example and have an open-door policy yourself.

8. Encourage feedback

Feedback is an incredibly powerful tool at work. When used well, it doesn’t cause conflict; in fact, it establishes trust and collaboration, and drives productivity. Establishing a culture of feedback starts at the top. Give feedback to your team and encourage them to do the same with their peers.

Remember that giving feedback is a skill, and train the relevant people in how to give effective praise and constructive feedback with the ultimate aim: to keep it motivational. Encourage your team to take feedback on the chin, by reflecting on how you receive constructive feedback. If you handle it well and think positively, your team will do the same.

9. Encourage teamwork and collaboration

Effective teamwork and collaboration get people talking! By putting in place mechanisms that foster teamwork, you will bring people together and drive trust and honesty at the same time.

When building teams, try to include a cross-section of working styles and ranks of seniority. This will encourage dialogue and conflict, bringing various working approaches together.

New teams will need to form and storm before they normalize, but the communication benefits will be worth it. Provide opportunities for teams to share feedback and troubleshoot any issues or leverage the capabilities of your team further for added impact.

10. Keep communication inclusive

With teams being more diverse and cross-cultural than ever before, one of the most important ways to build open communication is to keep communication inclusive. In addition to using various communication styles, display cultural intelligence when developing communication standards in the workplace.

Different cultures communicate in different ways, and whereas managers shouldn’t bend too much to one style, they should be aware of these differences and consider how they might impact work. For example, some Western countries prefer written, structured communication, but many Middle Eastern cultures lean to relationship-based, ad-hoc discussions.

11. Lead by example

Open communication starts from the top. If your leaders and you are seen to be open and transparent in the way you are communicating, then others will follow suit. Walking the talk sadly isn’t enough, though; you have to be seen to be believed.

When communicating openly, ensure your teams can see you doing it. Regular one-to-ones and team meetings are a good way to make open communication tangible, but also take time to walk the floor, getting out of your office and visiting team members where they work.

This demonstrates to employees your approachability and personal interest — and time investment — in driving open communication at work.

12. Set up regular check-ins

Regular check-ins or one-to-ones are good ways to foster open communication in the workplace. Holding such meetings with your team supports an open-door policy but it’s also a great way to connect informally with your team.

In check-ins, you might not always discuss work. You can spend time getting to know your team members, which drives trust.

Another great benefit of regular check-ins is that you as a leader will stay up to speed on work developments and appear in touch with what’s happening. They’re also a great way to offer and receive feedback in a timely manner.

13. Understand communication barriers

Everyone in the workplace communicates in different ways, and they’ll all have differing expectations when it comes to effective communication. When establishing a team, take time to ask everyone their own expectations when it comes to communication: what they want, what stops this process, and how they like to communicate with others.

Implement tools and practices to break down communication barriers, such as providing different ways to communicate and breaking down physical boundaries. If your team is largely remote working, ensure there’s an open and collaborative process of daily communication moments that will keep your team communicating transparently.

14. Use multiple communication tools

There are so many ways to effectively communicate at work. As you build your team, take time to understand how they like to communicate, and do all you can to implement communication tools to support everyone.

This might include a variety of meetings, such as formal get-togethers, one-to-ones with peers, and informal huddles at the start of each day. Solicit feedback on how these meetings are going, and don’t be afraid to tweak them if something needs to change.

Consider what communication technology you want to use, and try a few different tools to cater to different communication styles. Finally, establish communication norms so that everyone in your organization knows what the expectations are and communicates in the right, respectful way.

14. Use praise

Statistically, praise is an equally effective feedback tool as constructive feedback, and is a powerful way to drive open communication. By praising your employees, you’re showing them your appreciation and affirmation of their ability to do a good job. Praise is also a great way to build trust.

Remember the adage: “Coach in private, praise in public”: share individual or group praise in front of others for it to be taken motivationally. Other people will be inspired, and this happy and positive atmosphere will create open dialogue throughout the organization.

Key takeaways

Keeping open lines of communication in the workplace doesn’t happen by accident, yet doing so is vital for any top-performing business.

Here’s what to keep in mind when looking to keep open lines of communication at work:

  • Open lines of communication benefit organizations through increasing trust, collaboration, decision-making, problem-solving and employee satisfaction.
  • Use inclusive and diverse forms of messaging.
  • Managers must lead by example.
  • Open communication is enhanced through active listening, effective feedback and managing conflict.
  • Always evaluate your communication methods to see what can be tweaked.

Open lines of communication benefit everyone at work: including you, the manager. By being regarded as someone who is attuned to effective communication, you’ll see that your reputation as a great leader will grow, as well as your team.

Got a question or want to share a tip of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

This article if a complete update of an earlier version originally published on May 2, 2015.