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When Your Team Is Silent

You consider yourself a collaborative leader, but are your employees afraid to speak up?

You’re leading team meetings regularly and you’re frustrated. Even though you consider yourself a collaborative leader, you’ve noticed that when you invite your team to participate in discussions you’re often met with silence. They stare back at you. Not much is coming out of their mouths’ that’s helpful to the issues you want their input on.

There are also issues that you should know about that your team isn’t bringing to you. You’re finding out about them from unexpected sources. You’ve told your team you need more information from them, yet nothing is working to assure that you have the information you need to properly lead your organization.

I hear about these frustrating situations from the leaders I work with, and they often blame their team. There will always be some missteps in communication. However, when you notice the kind of withholding described above that prevents you from effectively leading your organization, ask yourself:

“What’s my role in this situation?”

You need to look to yourself for a cause and a solution.

Have you let them know what kind of information you need? Be specific in informing your team about what you need to know, when and why. They may be making some assumptions about the information you require.

Are you shooting the messenger? Expressing anger when you hear something of concern may keep people from telling you anything. Take a deep breath before you speak, and stay calm; if you remain composed you have a better chance of continuing to hear the things you need to hear.

Are you really listening? Stop trying to add your take on what they tell you. Stop shooting down their ideas. Listen to what they have to say with all of your attention.

Have you thanked them for informing you? Just say “Thank you for letting me know”, or “Thank you for adding your thoughts to the conversation.”

Have you asked them what they need in order to contribute? Ask your team what would help them to participate fully or bring you the kind of information you need. This simple question might just give you a ton of actionable information.

Do you give them what they need to be able to contribute? Once you know what they need, give it to them. If they don’t have enough information to contribute, teach them. If they need training, give it to them. If they don’t feel safe enough around you, change your behavior and make it safe for them to speak.

Look to yourself for solutions when people aren’t speaking up. What can you do, say, or ask to change the situation?

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.

(Image via Javier Brosch/Shutterstock.com)