“Yes People” will Cripple Organic Outreach Part 2

Loriana Sekarski

October, 2018

How to Foster Open Communication

If you took the open communication diagnostics tool in my article in the July newsletter (insert link), you may have realized that possibly you are the emperor whom everyone told was wearing clothes, when in fact, he was not. Or perhaps you have someone who reports to you who is that emperor. Today, we will explore ways to get your team to be more open with you, even when they know their input contradicts what you believe to be true. Creating that type of environment enables your team to make informed decisions based on reality. 

I encourage you to reflect on how you have received feedback in the past. If you ignored, ridiculed, or even subtly harmed the messenger, you need to apologize – maybe to the entire team. You also need to deal with why you aren’t willing to listen – what are you afraid will happen if someone criticizes the organization? Are you taking it too personally and making it a reflection of your identity?

Shifting from Defensive to Curious

Sometimes when someone criticizes our plan it can almost feel like they are criticizing us. That can make us defensive and closed off from hearing the opinions of others. As a result, they stop sharing, and you are viewed as closed-minded (I hear about this reaction frequently when I interview employees).


"We often aren’t aware of how we send unintentional signals of being closed off to new ideas or input. If you are going to create change in your church, this is a critical starting point."

Two critical components of emotional intelligence are self-awareness and self-management. I would encourage you to notice your physiological reactions when you feel defensive (body posture stiffening, increased body temperature, heart racing, etc.) Then, when you notice these signs: 

  • Intentionally take a deep breath.
  • Move to an open posture (arms unfolded, warm facial expression).
  • Start listening and asking questions to understand.
  • Thank them for sharing.
  • Point out something positive in what they have to say (even if it isn’t the content but their passion “I appreciate how passionate you are about this”).
  • Reflect on their input and sift it for what to keep, what to throw out, and where you want to seek additional opinions. 

Some other actions you can take to start building an open environment include:

  • Ask for feedback regularly – make it a formal, routine agenda item at staff meetings. Ask broadly and specifically about a department or issue. For example, “How are we doing with open communication?” or “How can I do a better job supporting your ministry area?”
  • Seek input from people with different perspectives than yours.
  • Place on your staff someone willing to put forth a unique perspective and/or disrupt and challenge conventional thinking.
  • Know who you can trust to be candid. High contributors are critical thinkers and honest. 
  • When given feedback, just say, “Thank you” or ask a question only to clarify. Explanations are often viewed as defensive and signal you don’t want to hear what’s wrong. 
  • Act upon feedback and report back when you do. People don’t always connect actions with their input.
  • Allow for dissension on the team. If someone points out a problem and is shut down by another person, it is your job to step in and allow for discussion. You set the tone for the discourse. 
  • Admit when you are wrong. If they think you believe you are perfect, it signals that you can’t or don’t want to handle the truth. 
  • Ask truth-tellers for personal feedback, such as: “Have I come across as defensive lately?”

Even if you think you do these well, I would incorporate a process for soliciting feedback (e.g., a 360 survey). Many leaders that I coach are surprised when my interviews with their colleagues, direct reports, and key partners reveal that they aren’t viewed as open communicators and that a few simple changes in behavior would create a more open environment. We often aren’t aware of how we send unintentional signals of being closed off to new ideas or input. If you are going to create change in your church, this is a critical starting point. 

Your Challenge: Resolve to do two things on the above list that aren’t your norm. AND seek input from two people who are wildly candid with you about the level of openness you have with everyone (not just your inner circle). 

Loriana Sekarski is the founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that transforms leaders (and businesses) into the best version of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential. Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University’s graduate student program. Additionally, she’s fine-tuning her passion project, TakeFlight, a program that addresses domestic abuse within the Christian community.

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