How the Best Leaders Encourage Open and Honest Dialogue

If your people aren’t contributing, speaking up and sharing the truth as they see it, you’re going to be flying blind.

The best leaders I work with as an executive coach encourage open and honest dialogue.

They’ve learned and understand why it’s so important for the people on their team and in their organizations to be completely comfortable with speaking up. First, you really want people contributing their best ideas on a regular basis because that’s how you win. Second, if your people aren’t contributing, speaking up and sharing the truth as they see it, you’re going to be flying blind as a leader. When you fly blind, you eventually crash. 

Of course, it’s not enough to just encourage open and honest dialogue; you actually have to do things that demonstrate that you’re practicing what you preach.

How do the best leaders do it? Here are three best practice action steps they follow that you can use to create an environment in which everyone is comfortable engaging in open and honest dialogue.

First, ask open-ended questions that surface what people are really thinking. Some examples are:

  • What do you think about this?
  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s getting in the way?
  • What are our options?
  • What do you think you should do next?

The best open-ended questions start with the word “what” because they open up possibilities and put people at ease. They also help you learn a lot more than you would with yes or no questions and questions that put people on the defensive.

Second, check your body language. When you’re the designated leader, people are always trying to read you for clues about what you really think and how you really feel. Smile when it’s appropriate to do so. Lighten up, open up and let people feel a human connection with you. Don’t walk around stone faced or with a neutral facial expression. A lot of people will read that as anger or disappointment. Relax, smile and open up your body language. 

Third, ask your team and colleagues for feedback. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Start by asking:

  • How am I doing?
  • What can I do better?
  • What should I keep doing?

When you get feedback, don’t debate it. Say thank you, soak it in, think about it, and, most importantly, act on it. 

For more ideas on how to create an environment of open and honest dialogue, check out chapter four of The Next Level – Pick up custom-fit communications; Let go of one-size-fits-all communications.