How can you make it safe for people to speak up?

//How can you make it safe for people to speak up?

This is a question we received from a client recently. In this case, it’s pretty obvious that the person is concerned that some people in the team have things to say, but are choosing not to – for reasons we’ll outline below.

Our starting point however is to say that some leaders might say they would like others to speak up, but deep down they are glad these people stay silent. In some cases – perhaps many cases – people prefer there to be no dissent, no disagreement, and therefore no problems. The way some people see things, it’s in their interests that people don’t speak out.

You’ll be pleased to know that there is hard evidence to support the fact that we ought to seek out different views. In a study by McKinsey, it was discovered that in cases where decisions turned out badly, only 25% of teams had sought out evidence contradicting their initial plan. In cases where decisions turned out well, 43% of teams had sought out contradicting evidence. So seeking alternative views actually results in better decisions!

Why people stay quiet

People stay quiet for a number of reasons:

  • They may be introverts – some people are naturally shy and would prefer not to speak up at a meeting
  • They may think that they will be perceived negatively by others in the group
  • They may believe that it’s ‘not the done thing’ to speak at meetings – either because the boss doesn’t want it, or because their colleagues believe they should not contribute (as an aside, colleagues can put pressure on one another not to speak out, as this may be seen as being ‘on the side’ of the bosses)
  • They may believe the comments could be used against them in the future
  • They may believe they will come across as ‘silly’ so stay quiet to avoid embarrassment

So what can be done?

Obviously, there are a complex set of issues that results in a person choosing to stay quiet. So fixing this is not easy.

Having said that, here are some practical tips on gaining more participation in meetings.

Trust is a critical aspect that must be present to allow people to speak up. This can’t be built overnight, but must be worked on.

Sometimes at workshops that we run, people are reluctant to speak in front of the whole group. To overcome this, we split people into smaller groups, then ask for feedback from each group. This could be applied at meetings – get people into smaller groups where they are more likely to speak up

Create some ‘ground rules’ for your meeting. These are guidelines for everyone to consider in terms of how meetings run. These ground rules could include, ‘we don’t make fun of anyone’s contributions’, ‘we listen to others’ ideas’, and ‘we don’t hold side-discussions when someone is talking during meetings’. Constantly refer to these to make sure people conform with them.

Steve Simpson is an international speaker, author and consultant who works with companies across the globe to help them understand and strategically improve their corporate culture. Professional Speakers Australia recently bestowed the Australian Educator of the Year Award to Steve