3 Ways of Getting Quiet Employees to Talk


How do you deal with quiet employees in the workplace? Whether they’re new or just introvert people, the best way to go about this is to encourage all members of your team to share their thoughts regarding your company and the manner you’re leading it.

Honesty, candid feedback and openness are some of the crucial aspects every leader wants and needs in order to improve not only his or her leadership skills, but also their business. Easier said than done, given the fact that honesty is something extremely hard to come by these days. Employees prefer to keep their mouths shut because they consider they have a lot to lose if they start talking and actually tell you what on their mind.

According to James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, who specializes in transparent workplace communication, there’s an underlying reason as to why employees are quiet. He states for the Harvard Business Review that humans are conservative by nature.

Humans have a deep set of defense mechanisms that makes us careful around people that are in authority positions. This is the reason why the information you’re receiving from people that are hierarchically below you in the organization is likely to be filtered, he adds.

So how can we get our quiet employees to open up and start talking? Here are three ways in which you can achieve this all-important thing:

Discover why people are being silent
Joseph Grenny, the co-founder of the corporate training company VitalSmarts, told HBR that a leader and business owner needs to dig into the company culture and determine why people aren’t willing to talk. Grenny states that “Silence usually means people are holding back”. Are the bonuses you offer your employees based on merit, or do people consider and know for a fact that the company rewards only the yes-men? Do you take feedback lightly or do you considered to be extremely important? Maybe, employees prefer to shut up simply because they believe that you consider what they’re saying does not resonate with you.

Regardless of the reason, try and find out what determines your employees to stay silent. After finding out the issue, discover a way in which you can make them feel comfortable. Grenny says that during his corporate training sessions, leaders take time for one-on-one meetings where everything comes in play, thus enabling the creation of open group discussions. Moreover, he also recommends telling managers to implement the phrase “crucial conversation” during meetings. This, in turn, helps to “frame the issue so that your team knows they have permission to be honest and open.”

Ensure the creation of opportunities for honesty
This is just a tweaked simple protocol you’ve already set in place. Of course, I’m talking about the open-door policy, with invites. Instead of waiting for your employees to become inspired and knock on your door, just invite them to one-on-one casual meetings where you should ask them for feedback or even tension points you’ve noticed during a meeting. Grenny advocates for the identification of gaps that appear between the issues the opinion leaders raise with you during a “safe, informal environment” and the “issues that are discussed during team meetings”. These things may actually be bothering your team, he adds.

Eliminate taboo topics
Should some of your topics, issues or even certain types of feedback be forbidden, make sure you change the policy straight away. Discuss with your managers and find out the reason why they are afraid of approaching you. Make sure your managers can discuss openly with no repercussions whatsoever. According to Detert, “people will realize that if they are willing to stick their neck out and tell you what’s bothering them, you will try to get something done”.

Create a culture of ownership
Most often, if your employees consider they don’t have a stake in the success of the company, they prefer to avoid bringing up something uncomfortable. By creating a culture of ownership with the help of which employees feel like their work has an impact, thus being able to share in the success, they will begin to speak up, address concerns, admit mistakes or even call you out on some of your leadership lapses. Employees should be included when it comes to revenue, financial reports or even budgets. Everyone should be made to feel like their actions truly make an impact. “Ensure that everyone’s motivation to improve the place is sufficiently high”, Detert concludes.

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