Maintaining Open Communication
You may encounter people who use any of the five typical barriers to effective communication:
- some people use jargon or overly technical terminology that not everyone understands
- some people polarize or divide the team over an issue
- some team members screen out constructive feedback from others
- some people bluff, pretending they know something when they don't, and
- some team members crush the ideas of others without giving them a fair chance
To establish an atmosphere of trust and open communication, you must create some ground rules that everyone on the team should follow during team meetings, or even during one-on-one discussions. Team members should also use effective anti-barrier strategies to open up communication. These strategies include the following:
- creating a safe environment for team meetings – One way to do this is to establish ground rules that ensure discussions are free of criticism and ridicule. People should feel like there are no bad ideas or dumb questions. Team members must have assurance that the meeting is a caring environment, where constructive criticism is given with their welfare in mind.
- getting clarification when you don't understand – If a team member says something that you don't understand, or that you anticipate someone else at the meeting may not follow, ask for clarification. You're probably not the only one who's in the dark.
- maintaining unity on the team – Open communication can be greatly enhanced if you maintain unity on the team. Every team has to meet its objectives, solve problems, and make decisions effectively. But this is only possible when all team members pull together and support each other as they carry out their own responsibilities. If a divisive issue comes up, everyone on the team should search for areas of agreement and resolve conflict as quickly as possible.
The strategies for open communication can all be used during team meetings, but only if everyone remembers to follow them. The team leader – or whoever facilitates team meetings – should go over these strategies at the first team meeting to ensure that everyone is clear about how meetings will be conducted. Posting the rules on the wall at the beginning of each meeting can also be helpful.
Eliminate barriers to communication
In order to eliminate barriers to effective communication, you can use three strategies: creating a safe environment, getting clarification, and maintaining unity.
When creating a safe environment for team meetings, the meeting facilitator should give team members a few principles to follow so they know what to do, and what not to do:
- what to do – During team meetings, you should treat others the way you'd like to be treated. Think before you speak so your message is clear. And instead of becoming defensive, respond to criticism by using phrases like "I can understand why you might think that" or "I can understand how that could be frustrating for you."
- what not to do – Team members will feel safe in meetings if you refrain from snickering, eye-rolling, or whispering to neighbors. Avoid making judgmental criticisms.
Creating a safe environment for meetings can eliminate communication barriers in a couple of ways.
- The people who screen out criticism may open up and feel less defensive. They'll be more likely to listen to their team members and change any detrimental behavior.
- Bluffing will also decrease, since the insecure members will be assured that nobody on the team is perfect. Knowing others won't ridicule them if they don't know something will reduce the need for them to pretend they have the answers.
- The idea crushers will be silenced, or at least they'll pause and carefully word their criticisms before speaking.
When you're in a meeting don't be afraid to speak up and get clarification if you don't understand something. If a team member is using unfamiliar acronyms or technical terms, you can say "Please explain that in detail." If another is talking about a new development as if everyone knows about it, but you don't, speak up and say "Please elaborate." And if another gives an explanation that's confusing or raises your suspicions that she doesn't really understand the issue, ask for clarification.
When team members make it a priority to get clarification when they don't understand, a couple of things will happen:
- You'll find that jargon users will learn to stop speaking in code if they're constantly being asked to clarify what they mean.
- Bluffing will also decrease. Those "know-it-all" team members will be more honest if they know they'll be asked pointed and clarifying questions about what they say.
Sometimes teams are divided, and you have to work at bringing them together. When you maintain unity on the team, you eliminate polarization. People will stop taking sides as they realize that a cohesive team is much more successful than a divided one:
- If you sense that people are taking sides over an issue, or rallying behind certain team members, you could try to build bridges between the two sides.
- You can maintain team unity by identifying compromises and win-win solutions.
- You should remind team members that a cohesive team is an effective team. Division will hamper good communication and teamwork.
You've learned how to establish open communication in team meetings. If you're a member of a virtual team and you don't actually meet face-to-face with your team members, you can apply each of these strategies for maintaining open communication to telephone conversations and e-mail communication, as well as in-person meetings.
The five typical barriers to effective communication are using jargon, becoming polarized, screening, bluffing, and crushing ideas. To create an atmosphere of trust and open communication, you need to establish ground rules that everyone on the team should follow during team meetings. Team members should also use the following anti-barrier strategies to open up communication: create a safe environment for team meetings, get clarification when you don't understand, and maintain unity on the team.
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