We’ve all seen it: that shy employee who has a tremendous amount of knowledge and ability but can’t seem to bring themselves to speak up in groups, meetings or in front of an audience.
It’s a loss for the team as a whole when one member doesn’t feel comfortable talking and contributing. Remember that old saying about a team being as strong as its weakest link?
Being shy — or worried about appearances, lacking in self-confidence, or being the ‘keep your head down’ kind of employee — doesn’t make a team member bad at their job, but it does make it more difficult to coordinate efforts and get the most out of everyone’s abilities.
There are a couple of tools in the toolbox that will help get everyone on the team to participate!
Model the behavior you want to see
Like most any situation where you are dealing with human behavior , if you want a certain action from your team, you need to model it.
In other words, if you expect them to speak up and risk looking ‘wrong’ or ‘silly’, you have to be willing to do it, too. Address the elephant in the room, whatever that may be. Take a risk in your speaking . If they see you willing to do it, they will be more willing to do it too. Make it clear that meetings are interactive, not one-sided speeches.
Request feedback and thank them
In order to get people to speak up, you may have to invite questions. This isn’t about singling out the shy person, like a teacher picking on the kid who never raises his hand. This is about making sure that people have a chance to have a voice. Invite questions, feedback, and comments and keep control of any judgment.
If there are people in the group who are prone to shutting down comments from others that they don’t agree with, you need to deal with those people because they just became your weakest link. Give credit where credit is due, when someone has the gumption to put something ‘out there’.
Engage with other options
A good way to get a reluctant participant to open up is to leverage a medium that they can get behind first. Example? Ask them to provide a written memo or report on what they are working on and to circulate it in advance to the rest of the team.
This gives other team members a chance to approach the writer one on one or in a smaller setting and ask questions, rather than having the shy person approach everyone else directly for feedback.
Figure out why there is silence
If the silence isn’t limited to one or two people, there is something else going on. Has there been judgment in the past by members of the group? Are suggestions given routinely ignored, despite being requested?
Find out why people are holding back by asking them in a more conducive setting, one to one, with the clear statement that they will not be ‘punished’ in any way for honesty. You need to get past any major blocks like this, as they are really not conducive to a team effort and can signal other issues within the group.
Give advance notice of meetings /informational requirements
If people feel prepared for a meeting, they’re more likely to participate. That might seem basic but expecting people to have the information you’re looking for at the drop of a hat might not be realistic and, in fact, might be detrimental to getting people to fight the very natural tendency to keep what they know closer to their chest, rather than sharing it with the group.
Speaking up and sharing information is at the basis of any good team, but the lack of ability to do so shouldn’t disqualify someone from their role. The ability to speak up can be taught, as long as the environment is one that welcomes it. That has to come from the leadership level, so make it a priority!