How to Encourage Your Employees to Speak Up at Meetings


Meetings are an integral part of the business experience. You need to be able to convey information to your employees in a private and welcoming environment. However, meetings aren’t just about you talking to your employees. They’re also useful for establishing some mutual communication and getting employees’ opinions on the matter. 

It’s a real shame when employees aren’t very talkative during meetings. If they are too shy to speak up, you won’t get the crucial feedback you need to improve on things you might night have noticed. As long as employees are silent, the meetings aren’t completely effective. You have to find ways of making them talk and express themselves.

Find out why they might be holding back

Sometimes, the crux of the issue might not be easily apparent. If employees are always afraid to speak up, there must be a good reason why. If they aren’t sure that their opinion will be heard, you can bet that they will hold back. However, you can’t possibly know this from intuition alone. Reading people isn’t very easy when they don’t give you a hint. 

The best way to find out would be to have them voice their opinion elsewhere. Ask your HR professional to create interviews and focus groups where people can talk about what’s bothering them. It should be made as anonymous as possible so that people feel free to express their feelings regarding meetings. You can gain a lot of valuable info from some of these interviews, which is why it’s in your best interest to organize them.

Set up some expectations

Before you start talking about the topic, make sure to point out that participation is strongly encouraged. Ask employees if they have any questions after every bullet point and you can be sure that they’ll take it to heart. It’s a pretty simple way to open up communications, but it does work wonders.

Make sure that you also explain how the meeting will flow. If the format is a bit different compared to previous meetings, you should point that out in advance. This will allow employees to know when it’s their time to speak and share their thoughts. At the same time, they know that they won’t be interrupting a crucial part or segue into something else.

Business meeting

Don’t draw it out too long

Employees are people too. Your meeting should never feel like a school presentation that has drawn out too long. If it lasts too long or covers one too many topics, employees will be worn out by the time you get through half of it. This means they will have little motivation to interrupt you with a question in the second half of the meeting. Some might not even actively participate at all if they know that it’s going to take a while. After all, why tire yourself out in advance?

Your best bet would be to keep it short and sweet. Make sure that you point out how long the meeting will last and how many topics you will cover. It will let people know what to prepare before they start talking. This is especially useful if the topics include very broad and complex subjects that require expert knowledge. It’s hard to form a question when you’re trying to keep up with the meeting.

Give them plenty of time

Meetings are never slow or dull affairs. You get to the point right away and finish without wasting any time. The host is often rushing to get things done and in a hurry. It’s understandable, everyone in the meeting would rather be somewhere else. Better yet, they’d rather continue with their work. This is why holding a meeting in a hurry is bad for the meeting itself.

If you want people to actively participate, you need to make sure that you make it seem like there’s enough time to speak up. If you’re in a rush, you won’t see anyone interrupting you at any point. If someone does start speaking, give them plenty of time to talk about their opinion. This will notify everyone that comments are just as important as the meeting topic itself. Someone that is speaking up isn’t taking away from the meeting, they’re actually contributing to it. It’s an important distinction to make, especially if people aren’t speaking up often.

Try to encourage questions before the end starts closing in. When people see that there’s only five minutes until the meeting’s over, they are much less likely to speak up. Save something to mention at the end, but make sure that it’s not something that warrants questions and lots of contemplating.

Adapt your language

Businesses often work in several different regions at once. This means employing people from these regions and cooperating them. It’s not uncommon for a branch of the business to have offices with some language barriers. You can’t expect everyone to speak both languages, but you still need to talk business.

When you have employees that don’t have a perfect grasp of English, you need to adapt your language. Instead of breezing through the meeting with your own vocabulary, you need to make sure you emphasize some important things more simply and expressively. This way, everyone can understand what you’re trying to say and they can communicate back. It’s an essential part of making your meetings accessible by all employees.

At the same time, you should encourage these employees to improve their grasp of the English language, to better facilitate business and communication in the future. If an employee is willing to attend a correct pronunciation course, you should further encourage them by financing part of it. It’s going to be well worth the investment, considering you’ll improve communication in the office.

Take the spotlight away

Sometimes, it’s not the topic that’s making people shy away from talking. There’s a lot of pressure on the person that decides to ask a question during a meeting. If you’re the shy type, you’re not going to like all those eyes on you. This is especially true if you hold some large meetings in your conference room. When there are dozens of people looking at you, it’s going to feel like there’s a spotlight pointed right below you.

As the person holding the meeting, you might want to prevent this from happening. If you notice that your employees are particularly shy people, you will want to create a more welcoming experience. Try to make the questioning process anonymous and private. Take short breaks of a minute or two and ask anyone to approach you if they have any questions. When you’re out in the hallway chatting, it can be a lot easier to communicate without pressure. Once you’re back inside the conference room, you can answer the question in front of everyone.

Alternatively, you can also ask people to put their questions in a box and hand them to you. This is a lot quicker than having individual conversations and everyone can have their voice heard. 

Conclusion

It’s not all that difficult to get employees to voice their opinion. It’s all a matter of improving communication channels. If you’re open to discussion, you’re easily going to find a way to communicate with employees. Even if they’re shy or speak little English, meetings can prove to be a wonderful way to transfer information and opinions. Just make sure you apply some of these examples, and you’ll see great results on your following meetings.

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