Want Team Members to Speak Up? … some suggestions!

Extrovert vs IntrovertIf your team is like most, you probably have some introverts and extroverts. We don’t have to worry about the extroverts speaking up, but the introvert may need some encouragement. In a personal setting, introverted or shy team members may be comfortable sharing their views, but may have trouble expressing their ideas in a group setting. Some reticence may also occur because of being a new member of the team. A team leader’s role is to draw these team members out and help them to feel comfortable enough to contribute.

Here are six (6) suggestions that will help shy team members to speak out:

Explain the risk of not speaking up – As a team leader, you have to deal with members do not realize that contributing to the processes and planning is a part of their performance expectations. It is helpful to explain the impact of their reluctance to speak up on the functions of the team. Develop a template that you can use to explain the benefits of speaking up… and the risks of not speaking up. For example, “Paul, this is an important project and I want to ensure that we do not inadvertently put the team at risk because we did not have your input or suggestions.”

Thank them for sharingIf a team member is reluctant to share publicly, encourage them to publicly share a point of view that they have shared privately with the team leader. Thank the member publicly to reinforce their confidence and encourage a continuation of that behavior. For example, just say, “Thank you for sharing that excellent thought.” This will have a positive effect and spur them on to continue to contribute to the conversation.

Expect and ask for their feedbackIf a team member knows that they’re expected to actively participate in team discussions, they’ll be more likely to do so.  For example, it would be effective to let all team members know in advance that you expect them come to the meeting prepared to contribute so that they are prepared. Remember to use open-ended questions when you are encouraging reticent members to speak up. Also, an open –ended question is one that can’t be answered with yes, no, or maybe.

Ask them to compose a memoThis is a more aggressive step that can be “toned-down” by not asking for a prosaic masterpiece. So, perhaps a “bullet list” would achieve the desired purpose depending on the particular member. For example, before a meeting, ask the team member to generate a list of three points that would be beneficial to the discussion. Depending on the type of work and required experience, it could be appropriate to ask a team member to write an article about a project or publish a project update and request for comments.

Encourage public speakingOnce a desired measure of improvement has been demonstrated, the member may be open to a recommendation to enroll in a program like Toastmasters, that teach participants how to respond to impromptu situations and speak “off the cuff.” This will provide practical training and experience to help them become more comfortable speaking in front of others.

Accept written and verbal feedback – While encouraging verbal input is important, a team leader may also seek written feedback from quiet employees, beyond the “bullet list” mentioned above. If the issue is sensitive, create a suggestion drop box, electronic or physical, where team members can share comments anonymously.

Related Articles: What’s Not in a Job Description? and   Interviewing Skills … your secret weapon!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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