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3 Ways to Help All Voices be Heard in a Meeting

Asian businesswoman standing to address members in board meeting

Studies suggest that people who speak up the most tend to be promoted more often than those who don’t. But, as Susan Cain wrote in Quiet, introverts have a lot to say!

So, what can you do as a leader to help all voices be heard in meetings?

Molly Tschang, founder and CEO of Abella Consulting, recently shared her tips with the Conference for Women community.

“This is about what I call balancing ‘the ‘noisies’ and the ‘quiets,'” she says. “The quiets have amazing ideas, and they’re just watching this whole thing go on and they can’t even get in a word edgewise. The noisies, meanwhile, are thinking, ‘Well, no one else is speaking up. I better fill the space.'”

So part of the job of the leader is setting some norms around the value of hearing all voices, says Tschang, adding that research conducted by Alex (Sandy) Pentland, the director of MIT’s Connection Science and Human Dynamics Lab, found that on the highest performing teams, people tend to speak in short sound bursts.

Here are three ways Tschang suggests you can encourage this kind of participation as a leader:

  1. Set some norms about how people should participate in meetings. Tschang suggests saying something to the effect of: “Listen, we want to be able to get the collective best, so that means short and sweet. For some of us, we are very passionate and we can go on; and we love it. But I want you to know that when I see that going on and on, I’m going to say, ‘Hey, summarize for us because I want to make sure we hear all voices.'”
  2. If appropriate, invite others to keep you from going on and on!For example you could say: “By the way, I’m part of that, too. So if I go on and on, give me the hand wave and I know I need to cut it down.” This helps everyone take responsibility for creating an environment in which there is room for everyone to speak.
  3. Explicitly invite people who aren’t participating to speak up.You could say something like: “Look, I know that you have a lot to add, Sarah but we aren’t going to benefit from it if you don’t add it. It’s OK if you’re not right. Just know even wrong information spurs the cognitive functioning of the team.”

To create an environment that encourages different points of view, you can say: “Hey, I just want folks to know I value hearing all voices. I’m expecting it. That means bringing up different points of view.”

And if you don’t understand or agree with someone’s point of view, you can respond: “Could you say more?” Or “Let me offer something that’s 180 degrees from the other side, and let’s talk it through.”

It can also help to articulate: “I’m expecting folks to lean into difference, and by the way, it might sound like everyone’s agreeing, but I’d actually like everyone to take the other side and argue the other side because maybe we’re all missing something .”

Molly TschangMolly Tschang is the founder and CEO of Abella Consulting. She recently joined our podcast, Women Amplified, in an episode sponsored by Indeed entitled, “I Can’t Say That at Work.”

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