When you host discussion groups and meetings at work, do you find that a few of the more reserved members of the team are less inclined to share their ideas? How many meetings have you attended where the loudest voices always get their points across whereas other members of the team are left frustrated because they’ve not been heard?

Are the quiet voices getting heard?

Letting things carry on this way can be a risky business. By not involving everybody in key meetings and important decisions you risk great ideas going un-voiced, staff feeling undervalued, and on top of this, the whole exercise can be a serious waste of time and money – some of the best ideas may not come out or some ideas that need to be challenged are not! This is why ensuring that everyone feels that they are able to share their opinions should be a key goal for any team.

Of course, what too often happens at these meetings, unless positive communication behaviours have been well and truly learnt, is that those with the most seniority and volume will get their ideas heard and driven through. The quieter members of the team may turn up assuming they are there simply to ‘bear witness’ to the decision, and thus never end up engaging, or even feeling that they are able to.

Unfortunately, when this happens those who feel they haven’t been heard can begin to disagree with the idea. They may begin to feel uncomfortable about the decision that they had little say in, and whilst not intentionally trying to undermine the idea, they are likely to begin discussing their concerns with others. People may agree and offer their own opinion, gradually dissuading segments of the team from doing the agreed actions in the first place!  A counterproductive move – and something that illustrates how important it is to let everyone express their opinion in the initial meetings. This scenario often ends with a frustrated boss exclaiming – ‘but this is what we all agreed on in the first place isn’t it!?!’

Great ideas can come from the quietest corners

We need to learn how to involve everyone in our team, and we need to understand how to encourage everyone’s contributions. If someone is suffering from nerves, putting them on the spot in a meeting may leave them feeling flustered, exposed or threatened – consequently none of these feelings will allow them to think well and their ideas aren’t as likely to be as good either. This, over time will lead them to thinking they have no value as a recurring theme, and the downward spiral continues.

To avoid putting team members in these situations, think about new ways you could possibly approach them, using the strengths you know they have to both of your advantages. I suggest you ask the question in this way: ‘Sarah – do you remember that idea you were sharing with me the other day when we met for coffee? I really think there were some interesting ideas there and perhaps you might like to share them with the team.’ By doing this, you’ve already made it clear to Sarah that her ideas are good ones and that she has your support. When she shares she’ll be able to do so in the knowledge that you are behind her!

Simply by doing this you’ve shown her that talking in front of the group needn’t be a nerve-wracking ordeal. You may need to carry on creating some different ways to include her in the next few meetings, but once you have developed her confidence in coming forward, you will soon find that she will develop the courage to more frequently share her thoughts in team meetings, without prompting.  As she develops this self-assurance the likelihood is she will realise that she is contributing to the team success which, in turn, will help her feel more valuable and guess what, you are now creating an upward spiral of confidence and great ideas!  A more valued and valuable member of the team emerges.

Brilliant and innovative ideas aren’t always the easiest things to come across – and sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to help fresh thinking to emerge. Creative thinking needs a leadership environment to blossom and being sure that each person gets their chance to be listened to and truly heard is critical.  Time spent doing this is never time wasted, and is truly worth the work you put in. So do all that is possible to use all of the people available to you, and ensure you know how they think and how they function – I can promise you that it will be worth it in the future!

If you’re looking to book an inspirational public speaker for an event or show, please contact Penny here. Penny, as the founder of The Living Leader, a provider of leadership courses that have been rolled out to tens of thousands of delegates all over the world, is an expert in leadership training and has worked with the likes of Sage, Centrica and Caterpillar. Click here for more info on how to change your business.