To bring innovation, solutions, and ideas, it is important for someone to voice them out to the person in charge – bring them to managers’ attention, or think of a way to get ideas or problems noticed. If people are not ready to speak up, the chances of change are less, and this is the main reason why entrepreneurs and organizations try to encourage people to speak up and share their ideas.
If you encourage people to share ideas and speak up their opinions, no one will remain silent when they have a solution you haven’t considered or an issue you haven’t spotted.
According to recent findings of the latest project, published in the Academy of Management Journal with multiple studies involving thousands of survey participants across different contexts, it is found that the extent to which or how often one speaks up with possible ideas or issues at work is almost entirely self-sufficient from the extent to which or how he\she intentionally hold back ideas or issues in silence.
Why does that happen?
When a follow-up study was conducted with 405 employees across different companies over a six-month period, it is found that people are motivated to speak up if their contribution can have an impact on the business and that they will be noticed for that contribution. By contrast, whether people fail to share ideas with the boss mostly depends on the situation of whether or not there will be any repercussions for doing so.
Keeping silent is a lot more damaging to a person’s wellbeing than people not sharing their ideas.
What should be done about it?
Start by noticing and appreciating how people are interacting when ideas are shared, or problems are communicated with each other. Also, ask your team’s best idea through anonymous surveys. This can help you find the different types of issues that people choose to raise their voices or remain silent about.
You should implement various approaches for managing voice and silence in a few problematic situations. Voice management should aim at enhancing people’s perceived impact, that speaking up is going to make a difference in the organization as well as in their own team. Silence management should focus on building psychological safety to make sure that it is comfortable to bring up tough and sensitive issues.
Here are some basic ways to manage voice and silence:
- Consult: Before the meetings, invite people to come with suggestions and concerns. Asking for their ideas and showing that you care and would likely work on it would surprise a number of leaders and you can avoid soliciting input.
- Consider: Welcoming ideas and then ignoring them, can cause a lot of trouble; people understand that not all ideas can be implemented, but they want to know their voice will be heard.
- Communicate: Follow up to let them know what the progress of their ideas is. You can even make this a routine event and communicate with them constantly, which can act as a good way to hold leaders accountable for providing this feedback.
- Monitor: How an organization and others react to ideas or issues raised helps to identify people’s sense of safety. Keep an eye on negative interpersonal behaviors, from scoffing to bringing people down. Set an excellent example and guide others following that way.
- Protect: In many organizations, people are on the hook for the ideas they suggest. That encourages silence and builds frustration. You must protect them from suffering if they give a reasonable solution that you choose to act on, and which then goes wrong. The one who’s responsible for the idea is not the only source of the failure.
- Frame and reframe: Testing on different framings of ideas to see if it is safe to speak candidly. Research on premortems, and allow people to imagine a negative event in the past, and explain why it occurred (instead of trying to imagine what might go wrong). Research suggests that simple changes in the building up a question from: “what could we do” to “what should we do,” can bring significant responses.
Leaders can no longer conclude that people who speak up are not withholding other issues. Similarly, if there’s anybody who’s only saying little, you cannot assume they are voluntarily withholding issues. Leaders must better understand the unique aspects of voice and silence and create mechanisms to make sure that the ideas, suggestions, and problems are well communicated.