What prevents people from saying what they feel needs to be said is the fear of how the other person will react. Are you one of the people who allow other people to challenge what you say? Do others feel comfortable questioning you, making suggestions, or offering a separate way of seeing things? Or are they afraid you will get defensive, act irrational, be hurt, or become vindictive?

When I was a collegiate basketball coach, I thought I was a great communicator. After all, I allowed the young women on my team who were twenty years younger than me have a voice on the basketball court. I valued their opinions. I asked what they thought. It was part of the culture I established.

I often asked them, “Does anybody have any questions?” Because I was rarely asked a question during timeouts, a game, or at halftime, I assumed my communication was clear.

Let’s put this assumption into play. Let me paint a picture for you. It is halftime. The University of Charleston Golden Eagles are down by 5 points. I come in the locker room, passionate about the outcome of the game.

My shirt sleeves are rolled up, the back of my shirt is halfway out of my pants, and my suit jacket is off, having been thrown off when the opponents stole the ball and went down for a lay-up. My hair is wayward from the numerous times I’ve put my hands on top of my head in total disbelief of what I was watching on the court. Sweat is rolling down my forehead, and my eyes are wider than half dollar bills. The vein in my throat looks like a snake ready to strike. Froth is coming out of my mouth.

“Ladies, I know you know how to defend their elevator play. We’ve gone over it a hundred times in practice. It is essential that we stop them from scoring on it.”

I go to the whiteboard, draw a diagram of the court. As I diagram the play, I never wipe off the board. I simply keep marking lines, numbers and letters all over the place. The entire time I’m in full coaching mode—excited, focused, and gesticulating wildly.

The board behind me looks like a frog which got smashed by a bulldozer. I point at it. “Is this clear? Does anybody have any questions?”

When the players answer me with silence, I say, “All right then. You know what to do. Let’s get it done. I don’t want to see them score off that play again.” As we walk back onto the court, I am pleased with myself. I was a great communicator. Every single one of my players understood what they needed to do, because nobody questioned me.

This, of course, was an illusion. What player in her right mind would question a coach who looked like a coke addict needing a fix?

The next day I came into the locker room when the players were having a contest to see what the diagram of the play on the white board most resembled. Their answers:

  • A cow having a calf under water.
  • A missile imploding on a pan of lasagna.
  • Three half-digested donuts in a stomach.
  • An infected intestine.
  • A three year olds rendition of a dinosaur.

That was the moment I decided to question how effective my communication efforts were. If my players couldn’t understand the drawing on the whiteboard, what other pieces of my communication did they not understand? How was I preventing myself from receiving important knowledge if I projected an image which clearly said, “Don’t ask unless you are prepared for the oncoming onslaught of crazy emotions?”

Have you had an Ah-ha moment where you discovered you didn’t allow other people to challenge you?

Are you missing vital information, because your team members or family members are afraid to communicate with you honestly?

There are some people who may never feel comfortable providing constructive feedback due to their fears and doubts. You may never get feedback from them, but there are other people around you who would be willing to offer valuable information if they thought you would be receptive. In order to allow others to challenge you:

  • Provide eye contact.
  • Offer welcoming nonverbal cues.
  • Listen without judgment of yourself or them.
  • Don’t offer advice because it signifies you are judging.
  • Give positive affirmations to their questions and suggestions.
  • When questioned, offer thanks for their insights.
  • Make others feel valued when they offer suggestions.