The conference attendee raised his hand in the communication session and said, “The open door policy is nothing but a joke!”
There was a long, horrified silence. Everyone knew that the open door communication policy was designed to gain employee trust. And yes there were a number of benefits. The intent was that if you offered an open door policy, employees would feel like they had been heard. Leaders would respond constructively to employee concerns and would be more informed. Ultimately, everyone would be more productive.
The gentleman went on. “They talk a good game and say things like, ‘We want you to bring your issues to management; our door is always open, blah, blah, blah. But it isn’t long before you learn the truth. When you raise an issue that conflicts with the “party line” you risk being labeled not a team player. You’re branded as a whiner or complainer. Why should we speak up when it means a quick trip to the troublemaker list?”
He had a good point. It takes courage to give feedback to leadership. We want to be heard and understood. But it erodes confidence not to be taken seriously and the last thing we want is to be categorized as a difficult person. Unfortunately, it happens more often than not.
The problem is, we don’t all know how to discuss an issue in a way that’s clear, respectful, objective and focused on constructive outcomes. Both employees and leadership struggle with this dilemma.
The Solution – The CARLA Concept
The CARLA Concept is a simple 5-step feedback model. It goes like this:
C – the challenge or change you faced
A – actions you took
R – results you achieved
L – lessons learned
A – another approach (now that you know what you know)
There are three ways to apply the model to address the situation discussed above:
1. If you want to raise an issue, use the CARLA Concept to explain the problem (or challenge), and what you have already done to try to resolve it. This will reduce the chance of being seen as a complainer, but rather, someone who is interested in improving the situation. It shows you are willing to take some responsibility to help find a solution. It’s less likely you will be branded a troublemaker if you take this approach.
2. If you are the frontline leader and someone approaches you with a complaint, you can use the CARLA Concept to coach them into framing the situation in a more constructive manner. It’s possible that by guiding them through the model, they may discover their own solution. It trains them to raise an issue focused on solutions. Another benefit is it can illustrate the complexity of a situation. Things may not be as easily solved as they had originally thought.
3. If you are the frontline leader and want to explain how this situation has been or is being handled, you can frame your response using the CARLA Concept. It will provide a thoughtful and thorough answer which indicates you are aware of the problem and are taking action to address it.
The CARLA Concept is a straightforward method to improve communication, facilitate feedback, increase understanding and resolve issues in a constructive manner. You can use the model in a different order other than the one presented above. And if you write out your responses in advance of having the conversation, you’ll feel more confident and increase the likelihood of success.
(Laura’s handbook, The CARLA Concept: How to Raise an Issue, Prove Your Point and Communicate with Confidence, Second Edition, will be available for pre-order in January 2024. She also presents workshops on the CARLA Concept Model, both in person and virtually, upon request. To inquire, please contact her.)
“Whether the reader will agree with all my conclusions is another question entirely. But disagreements can be productive, while misunderstandings seldom are.” —Thomas Sowell
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” —Plato
“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” —Nora Ephron
“Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” —Aldous Huxley