How to Get Team Members to Say What They Really Think

BY Kathy Crosett
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In some organizations, there can be a big disconnect between what the leadership thinks is the best way to do things, and what team members know is a better way. Team members are often closer to the work at hand and can offer valuable opinions about how well a potential change is likely to succeed. Very often, they say what they think the boss wants to hear, sometimes to the detriment of the organization. If you’re serious about implementing successful change, you’ll need to create a culture where team members feel safe when offering feedback.

On the TalentSpace​.com blog, Susan Mazza explores why team members hesitate to say what they really think. She also suggests a few ways to develop a culture which encourages them to take risks and speak up.

Most team members want to stay employed. That goal will contribute to a reticence to speak up. If the office gossip machine churns about employees who have given the boss their honest opinion and were then shown the way to the door or denied a promotion, you can be certain few folks will want to follow that course.

Think about your reaction the last time an employee told you something you didn’t necessarily want to hear. Maybe she offered a somewhat negative, but what she thought was a constructive, outlook on a new product feature you’re introducing or a new hire you plan to move into a management position. If you reacted by retaliating, you need to change your ways.

To fix a culture that's laced with worry and fear, you must show, not just tell people that you value their input, no matter how different their opinions are from yours. It won’t be enough to simply invite honest reactions. Keep encouraging staffers to speak up and when they do, praise them for being brave.

They are showing their vulnerability, so you should do the same. Acknowledge that their feedback is hard to hear, especially if it's the complete opposite of what you envision is the best way for a new product to be launched. Keep in mind that you don’t have to implement every suggested change. The goal is to get people to think creatively, to help you develop strategy in areas where you may be weak or have blinders on. To keep the honest input coming, follow up with team members. Restate what it is you think you heard. Then offer feedback, especially in a group setting, on how their input impacted your decision-​making. That kind of feedback shows you welcome and will use their input.