Why the Open Door Communication Policy is a Bunch of Baloney

A few years ago, I was speaking at a conference where I attended another session on communication. The presenter was singing the praises of having an Open Door Policy when someone in the back of the room raised his hand. He was upset. He stood up and said, “That open door communication policy is a bunch of bunk! I’ve tried a number of times to share something I thought was important and ended up being labeled ‘Not a team player‘. They really don’t want you to bring up any issues. They don’t take you seriously and I’ll never do it again!”

There was a long, long period of silence. Heads turned. A few people coughed, then a few of them clapped.

I could see his point. There were a few times I took an issue “up the chain” and ended up suffering for it. But perhaps neither he or I presented our concerns in a constructive way. Were we just whiners who wanted the opportunity to complain? Were we willing to take responsibility to solve the problem before dumping it in someone else’s lap? Or did we truly get labeled by a leader who didn’t want to cope with another complaint?

I think there’s enough blame to go around. There are people who don’t know how to raise an issue respectfully or constructively. Then there are senior level folks who don’t know how to handle it when someone brings a legitimate concern to their attention. And yes, there are those who say that anyone who disagrees with the party line is NOT a team player, sending them straight to the Pit of Insignificance.

So I created a communication model to help both sides face issues in a way that one person feels heard and the other can accept the message and do something with it. My CARLA Concept™ Model is simple and flexible and goes like this:

C – what was the challenge or change you faced?
A – what actions did you take?
R – what results did you get?
L – what lessons did you learn?
A – what’s another approach, now that you know what you know?

This is a template for how to get all the facts. If someone comes to you with a complaint, you can coach them through these steps to flesh out their concerns. It also subtly puts some personal responsibility back on their shoulders by asking what actions did they take and what results did they get? It helps the person who raises the issue think through their complaint before taking it public.

I think we all contribute to miscommunication in some way. There are people who should do their homework before camping on their supervisor’s doorstep. There are managers who need to listen more, take people seriously and stop pigeonholing others into the troublemaker category. Hopefully The CARLA™ Concept can help both sides.

What say you? Are you tired of getting complaints? Or have you ever been labeled, “Not a team player?”