Why Don’t People Speak Up in Meetings?
Meeting participation is one of the biggest points of contention that I find in organizations. People who have to attend meetings almost always are annoyed at the lack of opportunity they have to meaningfully participate in any decision making or direction setting, and, perhaps ironically, managers are nearly universally annoyed at how little participation they get from their staff in meetings.
The most important part of this equation is the manager: if people are not participating in meetings, it is most likely because you have created an environment that does not encourage participation. If you want people to participate, consider what kind of participation you want, create meeting structures to encourage and reward it, and make the space emotionally safe. Too often managers have no structures around participation, they just know that they would like some input at some point, and are annoyed that staff don’t recognize that moment when it happens. Running meetings takes discipline and routines. Develop them and help staff predict when participation is desired.
Conversely, if you want to be a good employee, you can’t always wait to be invited to participate. You also have to know how and when to interject. First, remember that managers generally want participation, but don’t always know how to get it. Second, remember that while they want participation, they don’t want their meeting derailed or overtaken. Here are three times when you should consider speaking up, when you have a novel idea to add to the plan, when you disagree with where things are headed, and when you are confused about hwt is being said.
In each of these three moments, it is important to be respectful and careful — you are providing unsolicited participation. “Have we thought about…” instead of “We should do…” is a safer way to bring up your idea. “Are we building on a bad assumption here?” instead of “Let me tell you why that won’t work” when you disagree will help a difficult conversation go better. And “I apologize if I’m the only one confused, but…” instead of “What are you talking about?” when you find yourself a bit lost.
Meetings should not be verbal memos. For a meeting to be worth the amount of money they cost, all attendees need to be ready to lend their expertise, and their voice, to the process.
It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent
― Madeleine K. Albright