‘I wanted to say something but I didn’t’ ‘I wasn’t sure what I was going to say was relevant’ ‘I thought it was just me that had missed something so I didn’t say anything’
It struck me recently, how often people tell me that they don’t feel they can speak up at work.
Often it’s in meetings, or sometimes a training workshop situation, or even when colleagues ask for one to one candid feedback.
So what stops us?
Regardless of role, seniority or sector, I’ve found that the biggest barrier stopping people speaking up, asking questions and sharing their thoughts and ideas is lack of confidence. It might be down to their self-confidence or it might be that the environment that they are working in doesn’t feel safe. For example, it feels too risky to ask a question that we feel we should know the answer to, or there might be negative repercussions. Some feel nervous to stand out in a training workshop – either for knowing too much or for knowing too little. Some worry that their new idea might be met with ridicule. The list goes on.
If people don’t feel confident to speak up in your organisation it can be bad for business. What if your employees are holding back from sharing their ideas? They could be secretly harbouring the next big game changer. What if the candid feedback that is never given means that no improvements are made to products, services and internal systems. What if the obvious question that you don’t ask because you feel you should know the answer to, unlocks new thinking? An example of this is Southwest Airlines, who some years ago ran an innovation programme that included people from in-flight, ground, maintenance, and dispatch operations. For six months they met for 10 hours a week, brainstorming ideas to address the broad issue: ‘What are the highest-impact changes we can make to our aircraft operations?’
At the end of the six months the group presented 109 ideas to senior management, three of which involved sweeping operational changes. Chief Information Officer Tom Nealon said that the diversity of the people on the team was crucial, mentioning one director from the airline’s schedule planning division in particular. “He had almost a naive perspective, his questions were so fundamental they challenged the guys that had worked at the airline for the last 30 years.”
So how might you ensure that your organisation helps people to be confident to engage fully and speak up every time?
Here’s my top 3 practical tips for creating an environment where employees feel confident to speak up.
- Lead by exampleTake inspiration from programmes like SouthWest Airlines and encourage people to get involved in problem solving in areas of the business that they know little or nothing about. Encourage the questions that just might have the potential to change ‘how we’ve always done things’ to something better.
- Encourage and facilitate wellbeingWhen we feel better in ourselves our confidence grows. Put processes in place to help employees to look after themselves, help them leave on time, encourage them to take a full lunch break away from their desk, facilitate flexible working.
- Buddying, coaching or mentoringEncourage employees to get and also be a coach, buddy or mentor (or all three!) either through facilitating an in-house scheme or helping employees to seek their own relationships. Knowing that you have someone who has got your back is great for your confidence – and being able to help someone else has the same confidence amplifying effect.
Lucy Gower from www.lucidity.org.ukis running a free webinar on how to build your confidence on Thursday 1 November at 12.30pm UK time (GMT).