"We must have open and honest communication." How often do you hear that phrase? I can't think of a team or an organization I have worked with that has not talked about the need for open and honest communication. It sounds great, but more times than not it doesn't work out very well. For years I have tried to help groups establish rules of engagement or group norms or ground rules to help create an environment where open and honest thrive. It isn't often that the group or individuals in the group can actually practice what they preach. WHY? The reasons why are many, but I want to offer up a simple thought I stumbled upon last week while working with a leadership team. As the group talked about what they needed to do to be more effective, the worn out phrase came up repeatedly. I heard them trying hard to be honest with each other and they were doing a great job of saying hard things to one another. HONEST was present in the room - OPEN was not.
I had an aha moment. OPEN and HONEST are like two sides of a single coin; they cannot be separated and yet we do it all the time. People are eager to be HONEST, but they are not eager to be OPEN to the effect that HONESTY has. They are not OPEN to what may come back at them. They are not OPEN to hearing what the other person has to say in response. They are not OPEN to another perspective. They are HONEST and CLOSED.
I decided to share this thought with the team and it clicked for them. They agreed that while it was difficult to be honest with other people at times, it wasn't the honest part that caused the problems - it was the closed ears/mind/heart that left them feeling badly about the conversation.
Maybe you have already figured this out on your own. If not, I am challenging you to ponder this concept - notice when you are honest with someone and then close yourself to the impact of being honest. You can have one without the other, but then don't be surprised when communication does not improve. My guess is that we could all work on being a bit more OPEN. I, for one, am resolving to be more OPEN in 2013!