Have you ever posed a question in a meeting, or perhaps asked for feedback from your team, only to have no one answer? The silence that follows is often deafening and leaves everyone in the room feeling uncomfortable. People may exchange glances, seeing who will speak first. Or maybe no one will make eye contact with you for fear of being singled out.
Silence is not uncommon in the workplace. In a recent survey that asked employees how often they share their thoughts and opinions, roughly 18% reported that they never spoke up at all and only about 47% shared their personal job concerns.
It’s important for your team to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. There are steps we can take as leaders to make sure they know their voice is heard and valued.
Here are four ways to encourage your team to speak up.
1. Embrace the silence. A quiet room is not always a bad thing. If people don’t immediately offer their feedback or answers, don’t panic – they may need time to think.
Give your team the chance to process what you’ve asked them. If the silence seems like it’s getting too long, try repeating or rephrasing the question, or even breaking it down into smaller parts. Allowing your team enough time to reflect can encourage more thoughtful, constructive feedback and help them feel more capable and confident when they are ready to share their thoughts.
2. Create opportunities to share. It’s easy to assume that people will speak up when they have questions or concerns. However, not everyone on your team may feel comfortable sharing unsolicited feedback, so it’s important you create spaces for them to do so.
Take time during and after meetings to ask if anyone has questions, thoughts or concerns. Encourage them to talk to you after or to email you if they think of something later. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback in creative ways, like sending out anonymous surveys, meeting employees one-on-one for coffee or making a suggestion box where they can leave ideas.
3. Lead by example. Many people may not like to be the first to speak up. However, they might find it easier to add on to someone else’s thought or idea.
If no one is speaking up, be the first to share your thoughts. You may be able to spark further conversation and break the ice for others to share. Participate in discussions by asking additional questions or building upon others’ ideas. By engaging with your team in conversation, you can inspire them to contribute their opinions and show you value their feedback.
4. Show that feedback matters. Be sure to thank your employees for sharing their thoughts. Whether they answered your question during a meeting, offered a new idea on a project or shared their concerns with you, your team members need to know their voice is being heard.
Thoughtfully consider the feedback and suggestions you receive. Be sure to address every concern, no matter how small, and listen when your team has ideas for how to improve. Remind them that their thoughts are important to you and think of ways to show your appreciation. By showing you value their feedback, you can help your team feel heard and seen.
It takes effort to create an environment where your team feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. Make it a practice to show your appreciation, whether through personally thanking them for their openness or by implementing a few of their suggestions. Creating a space for your team to voice their concerns and share their ideas will help them feel valued and help you grow as a leader.