Speak Up! 6 Tips to Encourage Participation in Meetings

By: Randy Hernandez | Chief Marketing Officer

Across industries, a great manager values the knowledge and experience of his or her team and works hard to stay in touch with their employees. However, even the best manager might experience the sound of crickets during a meeting and wonder how to get team members to open up and communicate. It might be time to strategize on how to get everyone to participate.

Understanding how your employees perceive meetings and tailoring your approach to encourage open feedback will help you get the best feedback from your team. Here are six tips to get everyone to speak up!

1. Prepared Employees Are More Likely to Speak Up

Most of us have been in a meeting where new ideas are presented and feedback is requested immediately. This robs everyone in the meeting of important reflection time. Unless you are seeking a gut reaction, consider distributing materials before the meeting with an agenda. Don’t undermine confidence by turning a meeting into a pop quiz.

If there are specific questions you would like answered, ask them before the meeting. Giving everyone a little time to formulate their own thoughts will lead to more detailed answers and increased confidence in answering during the meeting.

Furthermore, sending out materials and promoting a meeting ahead of time sends a clear message that the meeting is a priority. You expect your team to be prepared and ready to discuss the matter at hand.

2. Overcome Hardwiring

As humans, we are hardwired to be careful around authority figures. James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management is quoted in the Harvard Business Review noting that our built-in defense mechanisms are why “the information you’re getting from people multiple levels below you in the organization is likely to be filtered.”1

To overcome the natural instincts of your employees to withdraw, you must create a safe environment and communicate a sincere desire to hear their thoughts. Input should be rewarded with praise and encouragement, even when you disagree. For example, something like, “Yes, I can see how you got to that conclusion, but I think if you factor in x, y, or z, you will see why we are doing things this way.” still rewards your employee with a confirmation even though you are disagreeing with their thought.

Even in a serious meeting, keeping a positive, respectful environment will keep employees comfortable enough to speak up. Acknowledging the human instinct to withdraw will help you understand your employees’ point of view, too.

3. Change the Venue

If you have employees that you know are holding back due to their own shyness, consider meeting with them outside of a work in a more informal setting. Someone who would never speak up in a conference room might share their ideas more freely over coffee or lunch. If you want to keep their thoughts ‘on the record’ be sure to let them know.

Giving an employee a few moments to speak to you outside of the judgment of their peers and the official framework of a meeting might be just what they need to connect with you. Furthermore, making the effort to make this personal connection lets your team know you value their opinions. Remember to mention that you’d love to hear from them more in meetings, too.

4. Give Up the Floor

Alan O’Rourke designed this flowchart entitled ‘Why Am I Talking? W.A.I.T.’2 As a leader, it is easy to get carried away and take up most of a meeting talking. You might also have a few employees who also tend to get carried away and talk more than their share during meetings. It can be useful to have some guidelines in place for speaking up.

Sharing the way you are carefully monitoring your own speech and time during a meeting will do two things. First, you will limit your own talk to what is really essential to the meeting. Second, you will communicate the expectations for speaking up in a meeting to your team.

And reining in the individuals who might push out quieter peers will help even the playing field during the meeting.

5. Communicate Expectations

If you really would like to hear from all of your team, let them know! When you send an email reminder about the meeting, include a friendly note that you expect to hear something from everyone. This will let your team know that you are looking forward to their thoughts and you are not letting anyone off the hook without speaking.

Don’t be afraid to call on people in meetings, too. If you keep the tone of the meeting friendly, no one should be offended by a direct request to answer a question or share their thoughts. Be respectful of the fact that this might be someone’s least favorite part of their day and thank them for sharing. Again, meetings will be more productive if you are clear, fair and stay positive.

Creating a routine for communication during a meeting can be helpful, too. Leave time at the end of the meeting for questions and let your team know you value their insight and expect them to speak up. This can help clarify information presented during the meeting or inform you of a need for further training on an unrelated topic.

6. After the Meeting Feedback

In an article for Fast Company, Robert Chen encourages introverted employees to ask for feedback after meetings to see how their bosses and mentors view their participation.3 As the boss, you can take this responsibility and make it official.

Meeting with employees after a meeting can be as simple as taking a few moments to thank them for speaking up and pointing to a few specific moments in the meeting. If the employee added a new idea or pointed out a potential problem, thank them and ask them to keep up the great work.

If an employee seemed checked out or wasn’t paying attention, take a moment to ask them if something else is going on. A pressing personal issue or a problem at work could be a temporary distraction. Let the employee know you would like to see improvement in their attention at meetings.

And for those shy-but-brilliant employees, let them know you expect them to speak up and may call on them in the future. Not to put them on the spot, but to give them an opportunity to shine. This way there are no surprises and hopefully, you have disarmed part of the employee’s worry about speaking up.

Openly communicating that you value your team’s insight and experience is an important way to keep the lines open. Over time, you should get a more complete picture of how your business is operating and the day-to-day engagement of your employees.

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  1. Knight, R. (2014, October 10). How to Get Your Employees to Speak Up. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/10/how-to-get-your-employees-to-speak-up/
  2. O’Rourke, A. (2015, June 25). W.A.I.T. Why Am I Talking? A Better Business Guide. http://workcompass.com/w-a-i-t-why-am-i-talking-a-better-meeting-guide/
  3. Chen,R. (2015, October 23). Three Strategies for Introverts to Speak Up in Meetings. Fast Company. http://www.fastcompany.com/3052599/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/the-top-3-reasons-introverts-dont-speak-up-in-meetings

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