Almost all managers will at some time tell their subordinates that “my door is always open and you should feel free to tell me exactly what is on your mind”. But we all know that this commitment applies to only certain managers and that there are those bosses where this statement barely passes the giggle test.
How do we know if the commitment is real? Sometimes it’s a matter of body language when we walk in; a frown, a raised eye brow; an appearance of irritation at being disturbed. Subtle or not, we can sense it. Or it may be our past experiences at speaking our mind with this manager and being confronted with a defensive, argumentative response that suggests that our input was not really welcome.
No question, as a manager being open to hearing what your subordinates think is critical to your success so how do you make the open door policy work for you? Here are three simple suggestions.
First, if you don’t really mean that your door is always open, then don’t say it. Nothing undermines a manager’s credibility faster than saying things that obviously turn out to be untrue. If you only wish to discuss things with subordinates on your timetable or at scheduled meetings, then do so. Like it or not, your subordinates will adjust.
Second, make an effort to be flexible when subordinates drop in even if it is at the moment inconvenient from your perspective. If a subordinate is just itching to get something off her or his chest, then perhaps you should hear it now. And remember that your body language and tone of voice will convey far more of a flexibility and openness message than anything you say. If some pressing matter actually makes this a legitimately inappropriate moment for a conversation, then say so and reschedule to a firm day and time. Most subordinates will understand.
Finally, when you tell a subordinate that you are open to hearing what they think, it constitutes an implicit promise to listen carefully, attempt to understand why they think or feel as they do, and to thoughtfully consider the implications of what you have heard. To deny them this is easily perceived as dishonest, disrespectful, a waste of their time, and like “being jerked around”. This is no way to build subordinate trust or respect.
In the end, the point is not whether you end up agreeing with, liking, or changing your mind about something based on what you have heard. The point is that your commitment is honest: your door is always open and a subordinate should feel free to tell you exactly what is on her or his mind.