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Do your employees think speaking up Is pointless?

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 28 July 2010

 


Title

Do your employees think speaking up Is pointless?
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 121
Posted DateWednesday 28 July 2010 10:11 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://blogs.hbr.org/research/2010/05/do-your-employees-thin ... 

I recently read an interesting article on Do your employees think speaking up Is pointless? I think there are many reasons why people do not speak up and ask questions or make suggestions in meeting. Here are a few:

  • I might ask a stupid question and make myself look foolish.
  • I might ask the speaker a stupid question and make him or her look foolish.
  • Who am I to ask questions?
  • I have never asked questions in my life. It doesn't even occur to me to ask questions.
  • I don't feel confident in this group of people.
  • I am an intensely shy introvert.
  • I have asked questions in this setting in the past and have been put down by the speaker or others in the room. I am not taking that risk again.
  • It was a great presentation. I just don't have any questions to ask.
  • I was so engaged in the presentation that I did not take time to think of questions to ask. And you have given me no time to reflect.
  • In the past no one else asks questions its not just done.
  • If you try to force me I will just clam up.
  • This presentation was totally boring and I am not going to spin it out any longer.
  • Although they ask for questions - they don't really want any - that's why they leave so little time.


Fear in various forms is one of the strongest reasons but in the article it is stated that futility was 1.8 times more common than fear as a reason for withholding ideas from direct supervisors in a large multinational corporation

I have had several conversations recently with clients who have problems getting people to speak up and contribute in meetings. It is always difficult to advise them without being there to observe and without knowing the history or the culture of the organisation. Several managers have told me that they do their best to encourage participation; that they ask for questions and even refuse to end a session until say they have had three questions from the group. But like all targets - this fails - people will ask a few easy, safe questions, to get the hell out of there.

To my mind, the managers are still trying to do things to people i.e. make them ask questions rather then work with them.

This is where I think Knowledge Cafe format type meetings play a part: simply allow people to have informal conversations about things that matter to them - don't try to force them into a rigid workshop format or Q&A sessions. Get them talking together and asking questions of each other in a natural way.

Once you stop talking at them and allow them to engage with a topic, questions, comments and good ideas will naturally follow. You still need to listen, enegage with them and act though else that futility will set in!




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