How can you get employees or team members to speak up at meetings and briefings? There seem to be built in defence mechanisms which lead to people walking on eggshells around authority figures. Enlightened managers know that this is wrong and complain that they are not getting the ideas and feedback to complete projects successfully. Here are 10 ways to get round the problem.
1. Give employees advance warnings of new proposals or procedures
Nobody likes to be taken by surprise and asked to speak about it something he or she hasn’t prepared for. Many managers make the mistake of introducing a new plan or idea or policy without any warning. Of course, employees are reluctant to speak because they have not had time to think about it. They naturally fear that there may be consequences for them when speaking in an improvised way.
2. Don’t let silence fester
In other situations, managers may find that there is a worrying period of time from when problems arise to when they are finally aired. Usually, the delay may be due to some or all of the following:
- Fear of being blamed
- Worry about losing a bonus
- Scared of being seen as overcritical of management
- Afraid of criticizing current practice
- Passing the buck or brushing the matter under the carpet.
The key to getting things out in the open is suggested in the bestselling book by Joseph Grenny, Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High. He recommends using a technique in which the team members know when they can be totally open. The manager can use a term like ‘frank conversation’ or ‘crucial conversation’ to signpost that this is about to happen. It can be on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting, whichever is most appropriate. Team members should feel secure when they contribute with their ideas and feedback.
3. Don’t dominate the discussion
When managers were observed chairing meetings, many of them fell into the trap of talking far too much. When they asked for feedback, they made the mistake of immediately giving their own views on the issue which of course discouraged everybody else. Participants may actually feel that as the boss has answered his own question, there is nothing left for them to say!
4. Ask precise questions
Asking team members what they think of a new product or changed customer service procedures may get a stony silence. It is much better to use precise questions such as the following to get the discussion going:
- What can we do to improve safety standards?
- What incentives can we offer to gain more customer feedback?
- In what ways can we simplify the accounting procedures?
5. Take ideas on board
If the boss or manager regularly shoots down new ideas for improving products or customer service, then silence will reign. Employees will feel snubbed and worse still, demoralized. A much better approach is to take the idea on board. The LCS approach is one of the best I know:
- L- stands for what you like about the idea or suggestion.
- C- stands for some concerns that might make it less profitable or impractical
- S – represents suggestions for dealing with the concerns or issues that might arise.
6. Give credit for suggestions
Usually, having a list of action points from a meeting is a good way to get things down on paper. It also gives space to acknowledge the originator of a new suggestion or proposal for improving a certain procedure.
7. Ask each member to contribute
I hated this at the management meetings we had every week. The director would always go round the table and ask each member for their views on a problem, reporting on a successful event or anything else. If you are shy, like me, you will know that this can be agony.
But managers can make it easier by using eye contact effectively. Nodding in the person’s direction can encourage the shyest of people. Empathizing and making comments which show that the manager has actually listened and rewording it are all ways of encouraging people to speak up. Using the person’s name is also helpful. Ask other members if they have felt the same way about an issue or had a similar problem with implementing a new procedure.
8. Encourage them to think of long term success
Building a great company depends on superb teamwork. An integral part of that is making sure that your employees’ feedback is being used to give the best service possible for your clients. That guarantees the success of the company and secures their own jobs. This is why contributing and talking openly at meetings is crucial. Make sure that progress towards achievement of goals is regularly logged and updated.
9. Don’t call too many meetings
It is all very well getting feedback but calling too many meetings is a sure way to kill that valuable process. If the meetings are badly organized and do not follow a set agenda or time limit, then you are wasting valuable resources and time. A good question to ask yourself is what would happen if we do not have this meeting? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then do not bother having it. An email may be more effective.
10. Don’t discourage dissent
Many managers try to get people to agree to things as soon as they can. The point to note here is that when there are diverging views, this actually generates more discussion. It can lead to better problem-solving. Managers can also play devil’s advocate to stimulate even more discussion. It is a great way of drawing hesitant participants out and getting everyone involved.
Let us know what your techniques are for getting people to speak up at your meetings.
Featured photo credit: Client Meetings at Dynamic Signal/ Jim Larrison via flickr.com