Even if you think you have a great rapport with someone, you’ll always be receiving some form of filtered viewpoint designed with your authority in mind.
It’s hard enough talking to leaders and people in positions of authority. Don’t make it harder artificially.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the friction others may feel when communicating with you.
Institute an open-door policy
Publicly and privately state that you want people approaching you and giving you unsolicited feedback or dropping in for a chat.
Make sure you are approachable. Any barrier you put is just one more roadblock to communicating with you.
Recognize your open-door policy is ineffective
Already instituted an open-door policy? Great — it probably won’t work.
Many people won’t come up to you for various reasons — shyness, busyness, etc. Arrange a specific time yourself to hear people’s thoughts and opinions in addition to your open-door policy.
You can’t be passive about promoting communication — open-door policies are the least you can do.
Remove physical barriers
Your office desk is the second biggest barrier to effective communication next to a closed door.
The typical office layout involves a desk in the middle of the office, with a chair close to the doorway for guests and the office owner’s chair in a seat of power between the wall and the desk.
The problem with this layout is that it creates a very real physical barrier between you and the person you are communicating with. This physical barrier is enhanced by any other item on your desk — typically a monitor.
Break down the barrier — position your desk against the wall so that any guest that enters your office to talk is sitting in front of you with no barriers in-between.
Remove those headphones, move that coffee mug to the side.
Get out of the office
Another person’s office is viewed as hostile territory. Human beings have a psychological aversion to crossing that door frame — the threshold between the outside of the office and the inside — the safe area and the lion’s den.
In an office, the lines of authority are clearly defined and communication flows through that lens.
You’re unlikely to get effective communication within it.
The solution? Get out of your office. Talk to people in their office. Bring people to coffee shops. Grab lunch.
Reach out to people directly
If you want to hear from someone, ask them explicitly what their thoughts are.
Ask them regularly. Ask them through different mediums — in person, over chat, email, etc.
People have different comfort levels communicating through different mediums — find the one that works the best for the person you are communicating with.
You’re more likely to receive honest feedback and ensure solid communication if people feel comfortable and safe communicating with you. You can’t build that sense of safety or camaraderie with communication limited to work tasks.
Ask people about their day, how their work is going, or what they did that weekend. Build relationships with people, even if they aren’t even in your department.
You can see these environments start to form — groups begin to silo themselves or cut off visibility and communication in the name of privacy, security, or some other reason.
Perhaps they begin to place certain information on a “need-to-know” basis, or suddenly make their meeting notes private. Maybe they stop inviting non-group members to lunch.
Many times there’s a valid reason to do so — especially in areas where a breach in privacy can be a massive issue (eg. HR, medical, defense, etc.) or a loss of focus can result in decreased productivity (eg. training, junior employees, highly complex endeavors, etc.).
However, many other times these silos are created with no other reason than to simply create an in-group, exercise authority, or develop miniature empires to stroke egos.
Over times, these silos were to operate independently, contributing to a dysfunctional communication environment that makes delivering accurate messages and operating effectively much more difficult.
Effective communication is hard, but not impossible. Leaders can make small changes in their behavior and the environment that lead to compound results down the road.