How to Help Your Employees Speak Up in Meetings

BY Kathy Crosett
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You may not have suffered from the problem, but some of your employees do. I’m talking about the fear of speaking up in meetings. Employees have many reasons for keeping their lips sealed after you’ve asked for new business ideas or thoughts on new ways to accomplish routine tasks. Your team members may think their ideas will be perceived as stupid or naïve. Or, they may worry that they’re overstepping. It’s your job to change that thinking.

Assessing Your Behavior

You can start by assessing your behavior in meetings. When you ask for input on how to solve a problem, are you looking at a key employee who always has an answer for you? If you do, your actions are telling everyone else who matters to you. 

Change your approach and ask each person in the room for their idea. And, start with the person who doesn’t usually have much to say. Once that employee describes their idea, praise them for participating.

To further show that you’re interested in all points of view, include visuals. Stand at a white board or smart-​board and write down each person’s idea. Discuss the merits of every idea before moving on to the next. Doing so shows that you’re not playing favorites.

Changing Your Culture

Amy Edmondson, Novartis professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, who was cited recently by Stephanie Vozza in her Fast Company article, reminds leaders to pay attention to culture. If you’re driving a hard-​charging, win-​at-​all-​costs culture, people may hesitate to speak up. They know you’ve set ambitious targets. They might suspect that if you don’t reach the targets set by the venture capitalists who invested in the company, someone will be blamed and lose their jobs. 

In that kind of culture, employees will try to align themselves with the people they perceive to be in power. They won’t share ideas they know will help the company if they think those ideas go against what the power brokers support.

Empowering Employees

If one of your employees is having a particularly difficult time speaking up in large meetings, work with them in your one-​on-​one meetings. Have them practice asking you probing questions. Then, build their confidence by asking them to make presentations to a small group. Another strategy is to have the employee set a goal to contribute one or two ideas during the next departmental meeting.

You know you hired smart people. They have unique and valuable ways of looking at problems. Don’t let your brash work style or your company’s culture block your employees’ contributions.