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Posts Tagged ‘speaking up’

Leaders – Encourage Employees to Disagree

A few years ago, I facilitated a company-wide training program for an 80-person organization. Early in the program, we were talking about career deal breakers and I asked someone in the group to share a deal breaker so I knew that everyone was clear on what is and is not a true deal-breaker. An employee spoke up. She said, “I’ve been here six weeks. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. If I don’t get some help soon, I’m leaving.” People in the room gasped audibly. And everyone surely thought the same thing – “She’s done. She’ll be gone by Monday.”

I ran into the organization’s CEO at the Denver airport two weeks later and we had dinner together. Over dinner, I asked if I could give him some advice. I said, “That woman who spoke up during the training did you a huge favor. You spent time and money to become a more candid organization; she gave you the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you really mean it. Make sure nothing (bad) happens to her.”

It can be really hard when people disagree with us. Leaders institute a new practice, employees resist. Employees say they agree with a policy in a meeting but managers hear otherwise informally.

It may feel easier to introduce a practice and ask employees to follow it without asking what they think. And sometimes it makes sense to do that. You shouldn’t involve employees in every decision. But in an organization, it has to be safe to offer a counter-point-of-view. It must be safe to disagree – publicly and privately.

Disagreement is hard. But silence and the fear of speaking up is dangerous. Organizations full of yes people don’t innovate. They don’t solve problems or find new ways to save costs. They don’t grow, develop, or change. Hearing the truth takes courage and persistence. Put your ego aside and ask – again and again and again.

Every time I work with a new organization, at least one employee pulls me aside and tells me about the organization’s “list”. Employees who speak up and say things the leadership team disagree with get put on the “list”. And employees who make the “list” disappear from the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen this “list”, but employees everywhere are convinced it exists. And this is a challenge for leaders.

Even leaders who do all the right things regarding asking for and being open to all kinds of input are up against the belief that it isn’t safe to tell the truth at work. It may not even be true. There may be no consequences whatsoever for speaking up, but the perception of the negative consequence is what matters. And this perception is powerful and pervasive across organizations.

So what is to be done? How do leaders get the truth when employees are afraid, disbelieving and perhaps cynical?

Below are seven practices for leaders and managers to get more truth in their organization:

  1. Put your ego aside. It hurts when people disagree with our beliefs or approach, and we’ll be fine. Let curiosity rather than your ego run the show.
  2. Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
  3. Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, surveys (if you wish).
  4. Ensure there are no negative consequences for speaking up. You can coach employees on how they spoke up and make suggestions for diplomacy, but reward the courage it took to speak up.
  5. Share what you learn after gathering data. Give more information than you think you need to.
  6. Tell employees the ideas you’re accepting and those you’re rejecting and why. It’s ok not to accept and act on all feedback. But close the loop and explain the rationale for decisions.
  7. Be human. Admit failure, fear, worry, and wins. People trust leaders who are human and humans have feelings and make mistakes. I’ll follow a humble leader further than a polished and seemingly perfect one.

Just Say No to Saying Nothing – Speaking Up at Work

Several years ago, I was doing frequent training and consulting with a client and was in their offices weekly. One of their employees confided in me that she could see the train wreck coming on her team but wasn’t planning to say anything. She was going to watch the predicted mayhem happen without saying a word.

Why wasn’t she planning to speak up about the breakdowns she could see were coming? Did she care not care about her job or company? Was she not invested?  The problem wasn’t any of those things. She simply didn’t believe that anyone wanted to hear what she had to say, the negative consequences for speaking up felt high, and quite simply, it was easier to say nothing.

When we were little our parents told us, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As young professionals, when we did speak up and someone didn’t like what we had to say, we got ‘in trouble’. And no one wants to hurt people’s feelings, damage relationships, or get labeled as the person who complains. The odds are stacked against speaking candidly.

The problem is, when employees don’t speak up about concerns avoidable breakdowns happen, innovation is stifled, and dissatisfaction festers. We must find a way to speak up, even when we’re afraid or uncomfortable.

Many years ago, a fellow trainer said to me, “The truth is one ingredient in the recipe, it’s not the whole meal.” I can’t take credit for this bit of wisdom, but it stuck with me. You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking, you can just say a little.

If you want to speak up at work but are hesitant, test the waters. Provide a little bit of information and see what happens. Was the person receptive? Did you face negative consequences? Were you treated unfairly? If the person handled your message well, give a little more information. See how that goes. Be judicious in how much input you provide. Remember, every time you give someone negative feedback, you may bruise their ego and every person and organization has its own pace for change.

Silence leads to stale ideas, employee turnover, and cultures where people don’t want to work. Speak up, just a little.


Want More Innovation In the Workplace? Make It Safe to Tell the Truth

You’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.

Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.

If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is a killer to most organizations.

If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.

Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:

  1. Ask for new ideas and different points of view.
  2. Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
  3. Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
  4. Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
  5. Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.

Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:

  1. Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
  2. Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
  3. Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.

The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will kill your innovation efforts. It will also kill your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.

Innovation In the Workplace


Want More Innovation In the Workplace? Make It Safe to Tell the Truth

Innovation In the WorkplaceYou’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.

Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.

If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is a killer to most organizations.

If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.

Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:

  1. Ask for new ideas and different points of view.
  2. Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
  3. Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
  4. Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
  5. Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.

Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:

  1. Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
  2. Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
  3. Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.

The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will kill your innovation efforts. It will also kill your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.

Innovation In the Workplace


Just Say No to Saying Nothing – Speaking Up at Work

Unless I’m out of town or steeped in laziness, I go to a yoga class most Monday nights. There is another class in the same studio right after the class I attend. During the last few minutes of this week’s class, people attending the next class began to congregate outside the studio and were talking loudly enough that our class could hear them. The teacher walked outside and asked them to be quiet. Then she walked back into the room and told our class that she just did something she doesn’t typically do–speak up. When the class was over she went back outside and apologized to the people she’d asked to be quiet.

Why!? Why!? Why!?

What is the big deal with giving feedback and asking people to do something differently?

Unless you live in a cave, this happens to you too. People talk near your office or cubicle and it’s distracting, but you don’t feel you can say anything. Someone in your office cc’s your boss every time he wants something from you. It annoys you and makes you distrust the person, but you don’t feel you can say anything. The people sitting in front of you at a movie theater talk throughout a movie, it’s annoying, but you’re hesitant to say anything.

Again, why, why, why!?

I already know what you’re going to say. People will be angry at you for speaking up at work and will kill you off.

That may be true, but what the heck?! That’s crazy. We do stuff. It annoys other people. They tell us.  BIG DEAL!  No one died.

speaking up at work

My entire business, Candid Culture, is focused on helping people feel they can be more candid at work. Speaking up at work is a struggle in every organization. People are afraid to give feedback. They fear retribution –real or imagined.

speaking up at work

Make a pact with each other that it’s ok to tell the truth. And that people will take the feedback in the spirit it was intended –to make something better, not to be critical. Give each other permission to be candid without consequence.

The more often you find yourself speaking up at work and giving feedback, the easier it will be.


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