I recall a manager early in my radio days who made quite a point of saying he had an open door policy. He genuinely believed it, too, and he would frequently express frustration that few people took advantage of his Open Door to ask him questions or bring him information. Truth was, all too often whenever someone did dare to come through that open door with an idea he didn’t like, guess what happened? The reaction was scary! This particular manager did not care to have his ideas and policies challenged, and those who did challenge his thinking learned the hard way that they had become suspect. One friend of mine was branded as “not a team player” and ended up leaving the company.
You see, the boss’s door was definitely open — but his mind was firmly closed. Needless to say this was a deeply frustrating trait for all of us, and we soon learned to avoid that “open door” at all costs.
It’s human nature for us to want to have our opinions validated and not negated. I think that’s why we all have a tendency to practice “echo chamber” thinking, where the only people we talk with or listen to are those who agree with us. (This is especially true in media, specifically in the realm of political talk radio.) But I would suggest that “echo chamber” thinking is particularly toxic in the workplace, because it reinforces the notion that the only opinions that matter are those the boss agrees with — and that is a recipe for worker frustration if there ever was one. In many books and surveys about workplace dissatisfaction, one of the leading reasons workers dislike their jobs is that their views, suggestions and opinions just don’t seem to matter. If my views are devalued, the thinking goes, then so am I.
If you work for a closed-minded boss, here’s a scary thought: you may need to be the one to talk to him or her and explain why the open door/closed mind paradox is highly dysfunctional. It’s called “speaking truth to power.”
According to the online Urban Dictionary, it was the Quakers who first coined the phrase “speaking truth to power” back in the 1950’s, as part of their desire to confront the prevailing political establishment. But the idea is hardly new. The Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us, “Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right.” (Proverbs 16:13) So while telling the boss something he or she doesn’t want to hear may be scary, if the boss is a person of character and self-confidence, your words will hopefully fall on receptive ears, so long as you speak appropriately. If you decide you need to walk through the Open Door and talk with the boss, here are a few thoughts.
First, be positive and not negative, emphasizing how much your co-workers genuinely want to contribute to building a more effective workplace. Use terms the manager can relate to: productivity, worker output, reducing turnover.
Second, be professional and not overly personal. Don’t say “You hurt my feelings” — ask instead, “Are you willing to consider modifications to your plan that my colleagues and I believe will make it even more effective?”
Third, have a few examples, and write them down. I’ve tried bringing up challenging behavior to a few bosses in my past, only to get flustered when he or she challenged my thinking. Far better to have two or three specific instances than to get tongue-tied and end up with generalities like “You never listen!”
Finally, don’t go alone, but don’t gang up, either. Two people coming to see the manager seems reasonable. Six feels mutinous. There may be strength in numbers, but you may also be sending a message you didn’t intend to send!
One more word: if you currently have a boss whose open mind matches his or her open door, say thanks! Tell her or him how much you appreciate their spirit of openness. After all, it’s a real blessing to work for someone who values the opinions of subordinates and is willing to consider them — even when those opinions challenge the views of the person in the corner office.