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From Nodding Heads to Speaking Up: Encouraging Honesty in the Workplace

[3 min read]

How to foster a culture of open communication.

As a leader in our organisation, you are undoubtedly interested in improving your team’s performance. But have you ever stopped to consider the role that honesty plays in creating a successful workplace culture? Cultivating a culture of openness, transparency, and candour can help you build a high-performing team that is capable of achieving outstanding results.


Why Honesty Matters

The level of honesty that individuals are allowed or encouraged to share has a significant impact on workplace culture. Yet, as leaders, we may be afraid to try to improve openness, transparency, and frankness in our teams. We may worry to end up with impolite or even disrespectful team members if we allow them to express their true thoughts, feelings and viewpoints. Our brains are hardwired to avoid both physical and social pain, so we may go to great lengths to avoid disagreements or robust conversations, which are so vital in today’s world.

However, one of the primary characteristics of a high-performing team is the ability of its members to respectfully discuss what they are truly thinking, especially when their opinions differ. To enable this, we must create a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment, where people not only feel valued but also VALUABLE by sharing their insights and viewpoints with the team and organisation.


Creating a Culture of Honesty

To create a culture of honesty, we must clearly communicate and demonstrate that we not only welcome different opinions but also appreciate them. This is how we set up a strong foundation for a culture that enables individuals and teams to succeed on their own terms, not by default. Once we achieve this, individuals will start to speak up more in front of their peers and confidently share their opposing viewpoints with the group.

As human-centered leaders, we have a crucial part to play in this area. If we voice a strong opinion too early, we may magnify our viewpoint and greatly reduce the likelihood that anybody would argue with us in front of the group. People often avoid doing this because it poses a danger to their sense of belonging within the team. Even rolling our eyes or raising our eyebrows can easily build resistance and be counterproductive in building a workplace culture of sharing insights, experiences, ideas, viewpoints, etc. openly and honestly with others.

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Stop Telling – Start Coaching

Instead of telling team members what to do, try coaching them instead. By asking open-ended questions and encouraging team members to express their thoughts and feelings, we can foster a culture of openness and transparency. If someone shares what they really think, we must acknowledge and thank them for their openness and for forthright and frank. If we don’t or even shut them down, we will encourage them to gossip behind closed doors without our presence.

“Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure.”
James Altucher


Case Study

We often observe the following typical example of culture when working with our clients.

Current guideline (formal strategy and/or informal culture): We expect you to be kind, friendly, and ‘pleasant’ in order to be accepted in our workplace culture and to get a sense of belonging and respect.

Result of this guideline: We (as individual team members) don’t express our true opinions. In meetings, we nod, smile, and agree to actions even if we don’t agree or don’t see any value in completing these tasks. We just tell them what they want to hear. Nevertheless, once we leave the room, we take different actions and chat about what we really think with one another behind closed doors.

What manager/leader often assume and believe: We must constantly micro-manage our employees and teams as we cannot rely on them – they don’t abide by the guidelines.


How to Foster a More Effective Workplace Culture

To foster a more supportive, inclusive, and effective workplace culture, we should:

  • Welcome and embrace honesty and frankness
  • Earn respect, appreciation and belonging by being honest and transparent with each other in a respectful way


Let’s be more curious and show genuine interest in what our team members have to say, because no one is a smart, strong and effective as all of us together.


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