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Executive Board column: Open communication isn’t rocket science, but we do forget it at times

We want to be an engaged community where we feel heard and enjoy working together. But how do we have an open conversation about difficult topics?

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What are they enthusiastic about? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s the turn of Martijn Ridderbos.

People in many organisations find it difficult to discuss problems openly. They may avoid sensitive matters for fear of harming their working relationships. And it’s not plain sailing at our university either. In my last column I explained why I think personal leadership, leading yourself, is important. You work better with others if you have the self-knowledge to be aware of the effect you have on others.

Let’s give one another more compliments, something we often forget to do.

How do you start an open conversation? The Let’s Connect toolkit provides inspiration in the form of articles, videos, training and advice. This includes rules of thumb for open communication, such as not only expressing yourself clearly but also actively listening without constantly interrupting to give your opinion. Identify sticking points together and decide how to resolve them. Try to give and receive feedback in a constructive way. And let’s give one another more compliments, something we often forget to do.

In our team, the Executive Board, we regularly try to take a step back and look at how we work together: in our meetings, whether we let one another finish what we’re saying and whether we give one another a pat on the back often enough. The three of us generally discuss these kinds of things at a lunch together. We also have an away day a few times a year to really get away from our everyday work, something I’d recommend to everyone.

Open communication is just as important in our contact with society. Alongside HRM, my portfolio includes Real Estate. We recently held a participation meeting for residents. Rather than a room with speakers standing in front of the public, we deliberately chose an information market. Walking around made it much easier for me to strike up a conversation with the residents. We were mingling instead of facing one another. The location and form of conversation really do matter. 

Open conversation isn’t rocket science but we do forget it at times. Take a look at the toolkit and choose an exercise that you can do with your colleagues. And if you have any inspiring advice or a good exercise, do let us know and we’ll add them to Let’s Connect.

Does this strike a chord or would you like to share any insights or experiences relating to this column? If so, send us an email at nieuws@leidenuniv.nl nieuws@leidenuniv.nl


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