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Dear Teressa: How Do I Get People To Speak Up At Meetings?

November 19, 2013

Dear Teressa TuesdayDear Teressa,

Any advice on how I can get more people to speak up in my meetings? 

~John V.

John,

I’m glad to hear that you’re a leader who wants more voices in the conversation – more people engaged and contributing.

Here are several strategies that have worked for a number of my clients.  Perhaps one or more of them will prove helpful to you.

Listen first and speak last.  When leaders speak first the conversation can be thwarted because, based on previous experience or the leader’s positional power, others may feel they shouldn’t disagree or offer a divergent perspective.  If you want their input, try holding your piece, allowing others to share their thinking before you weigh in.

Be curious.  Ask open-ended questions.  Research says most of us speak in statements, offering solutions, sharing conclusions and assumptions.  We don’t really ask pure questions – questions designed to elicit deeper, higher-quality thinking that can stimulate other perspectives.

To generate more open dialogue, try ask questions like:

  • “Given the presentation you just heard, what are your thoughts?”
  • “Based on what you’ve heard, in what ways might this work well for us?  What are your concerns or cautions?”
  • “How do you see the situation?”
  • “What if…?”
  • “What additional possibilities do you see?”
  • “I’m concerned that I may be missing something.  What might it be?”
  • “What other ways of looking at this can you think of?”
  • “In what way does this idea align with our strategy?”  Listens to responses.  Then, ask, “What concerns you about it?  What modifications might be needed if we were to proceed with implementation?”

Open-ended questions invite reflection and response, which can lead to valuable dialogue.  Ask pure questions, listen deeply and capitalize on the creative ideas that come forth.

Lean in and listen.  I have a few CDs of speakers whose work I respect.  I listen to them over and over again.  While the same, recorded words are spoken, when I listen deeply, I always hear something new.  Those same words have new, nuanced meaning and a different impact.  Listening deeply is especially important when you think you know where the conversation is going or you don’t agree with the speaker because your lack of interest, or negative judgment, is telegraphed.  If you want participation, you have to demonstrate credibility as an open-minded, interested listener – one who respects and values everyone’s point of view – even those with whom he disagrees.

Try a meeting opener.  Here is the beginning of a fun, light-hearted way to start a team meeting.  It just might get everyone talking and learning more about one another.  Consider your team and what might interest them; then add your own workplace-appropriate, creative twists.   Here’s the basic framework:

Write out enough questions so that you have one for each person.  Put the questions into a bag and let attendees reach in and grab one.  Ask fun questions, like:

  • When you were in the fourth grade, who was your favorite teacher and why?
  • If you could start another career today, what would it be?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world and spend a month, where would you go and what would you do?
  • What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
  • When you were in the first grade, who was your best friend?  What did you like about that person?
  • What’s your favorite season and why?

Appropriate self-disclosure, even in the workplace, can facilitate a level of ease and comfort that results in deeper, richer dialogue about tough business issues, as well as a greater appreciation of each other’s uniqueness.

Spice it up with stakeholders.  Sometimes, guests can add interest to mix, stimulating idea generation and conversation.  Invite important stakeholders and business partners to your team meetings.  The purpose:  heightened awareness of each other’s priorities and pressures, and identification of ways to improve relationships and outcomes. The result:  increased openness, better-informed partners, greater transparency and alignment, increased collaboration and engagement.

John, if you decide to try out one or more of these ideas, let me know how it works for you.

Wishing you only the best in your efforts to engage every meeting attendee.

Teressa Moore Griffin

Click here to learn how to submit your “Dear Teressa” question.

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