Clear the Air: Promoting Transparency & Open Communication

Just as consumers expect transparency from the companies and brands they love, employees also expect transparency from their places of work.

In fact, transparency continues to grow in importance among the workforce — particularly as more and more millennials enter it.

Not convinced? Check out these statistics:

Clearly, transparency in the workplace matters to employees today. So how do you achieve it? It all starts with an open, honest, two-way dialogue between employees and managers.

In this article, we’ll discuss the perks of feedback transparency and two-way communication in the workplace, explore how to achieve them, and share the often-overlooked pitfalls of the “compliment sandwich.”

Why Feedback Transparency and Two-Way Communication Matter

Counterintuitive as it may seem, providing transparent feedback is good for employee morale. In an article for Inc., Credit Karma Founder and CEO Ken Lin said, “In a transparent company, people know what is happening and why. They feel more involved … executives are part of the greater team and not locked off in a room no one can access. People end up feeling that they’re part of something instead of a cog in a machine.” Two-way communication further helps with employee morale, as it gives employees the opportunity to share their ideas or frustrations with management.

Additionally, feedback transparency and two-way communication actually improve relationships between employees and managers. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 37 percent of the more than 3,000 employees surveyed were likely to leave their job due to a poor opinion about their boss’ performance. Employees who feel they can communicate openly and honestly with managers are more likely to have positive feelings toward those managers, thereby improving the employee-manager relationship and reducing employee turnover.

Not surprisingly, transparent feedback also allows for better employee-manager alignment. In an article for Entrepreneur, ClearCompany CEO and Co-Founder Andre Lavoie said, “Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their employees.” Whether it’s on how an employee fits into the big picture of the company or how he or she performed on a recent project, transparent feedback helps ensure that all parties on the same page, so problems can be addressed quickly and solved faster.

Similarly, two-way communication results in relationships growing more quickly and more authentically. In an article for Forbes, contributor Glenn Llopis said, “Transparency allows relationships to mature faster, as openness can potentially avoid misunderstandings that can fuel unnecessary tension.” Employees and managers feel more respect for one another when they share honest opinions, even if those opinions are controversial. By enabling managers and employees to talk candidly, both parties are more likely to value the relationship and perceive it as balanced.

Last but not least, feedback transparency results in higher levels of performance. When employees know they’ll get honest reviews from management on how well they’re performing in their roles, they work harder in hopes of receiving those genuinely positive remarks. Furthermore, when transparent feedback isn’t positive, it quickly brings attention to where or how employees are falling short, so they can course-correct accordingly.

Ultimately, two-way communication and transparent feedback lead to more engaged, motivated and productive employees.

How to Open the Lines of Communication Between Employees and Managers

Saying feedback transparency and two-way communication matter is one thing. Actually giving transparent feedback is a whole different issue. As empathetic humans, we worry about hurting each other’s feelings, creating conflict, causing discomfort and disrupting the relationship status quo. So how can managers and employees give transparent feedback in a way that’s positive and effective?

For starters, transparent feedback is best delivered in person, so opt for face-to-face communication when possible. In an article for Forbes, contributor Llopis said “It’s time to be transparent by communicating less over email and through third-party communication — and become more personally engaged with employees via face-to-face and/or video interaction.”

Other experts suggest that having an open-door policy can help establish an ongoing line of two-way communication, making it easier to give transparent feedback when it’s needed. Similarly, more frequent performance reviews — perhaps monthly or bi-weekly — encourage more transparency between managers and employees.

Although transparent feedback should always go both ways — managers and employees both giving and receiving honest feedback — it may be more difficult for employees to be candid with managers, especially when the feedback is negative. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to offer a way for employees to give transparent feedback to managers anonymously, without fear of repercussions.

Finally, when moving to more transparent feedback in the workplace, it’s important to remember that transparency doesn’t mean negative. Feedback can — and should — be both good and bad. The goal is, to be honest and forthright, acknowledge successes, address issues, and grow both employees and managers in their respective roles.

The Sour Taste of the Compliment Sandwich

You may have heard of the good ol’ compliment sandwich. That’s when someone bookends a negative statement — like bad feedback or news — with two positive ones. In theory, this strategy makes it easier for the feedback recipient to hear the negative comments because he or she just heard positive ones. The compliment sandwich also ensures that the conversation ends on a positive note.

In reality, the compliment sandwich undermines the idea of feedback transparency. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Schwarz & Associates President and CEO Roger Schwarz says, “The sandwich approach may be undermining both your feedback and your relationships with your direct reports.” He argues that the compliment sandwich actually manipulates the recipient of the feedback and distorts the most important message: what needs to be changed or improved.

In order to ditch the sandwich, Schwarz suggests shifting the mindset around giving and receiving transparent feedback: “It means thinking of feedback as a way for you and others to make informed choices together. Giving negative feedback transparently means respecting your direct reports, not controlling or alienating them; this makes both your negative and positive feedback feel more genuine to your direct reports and lowers your discomfort and their anxiety.”

A significant part of a manager’s role is helping employees grow as professionals so they can further their careers. Providing honest, transparent feedback is key to this career growth and a critical first step to achieving transparency at the corporate culture level.


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