Speak Now, or Forever Hold Your Peace

I receive The Daily Alert from Harvard Business Review that usually provides a list of thought-provoking articles. There was a title in one of last week’s Alert that caught my eye: Before a Meeting, Tell Your Team That Silence Denotes Agreement.” I am flying as I write this and am on an airplane that doesn’t have Wi-Fi (for which I am thankful!). I immediately thought back to all of the team meetings that I have led and facilitated, and wondered if that tactic would have been successful.

Despite my greatest intentions to create a safe environment where my team members can speak openly and candidly, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the person is simply not going to feel comfortable telling his/her boss that they respectfully disagree. Sometimes the person is processing the conversation and isn’t in a position to be able to share his or her thoughts because they are not clearly formed yet. Sometimes the person is intimidated by his or her peers and simply isn’t going to speak up in a group meeting.

I’ve also thought about meetings in which I’ve participated and someone else has led it, soliciting feedback from the participants. I, myself, didn’t want to speak up – for a myriad of reasons. I looked around the table and saw that my co-workers were reluctant to speak up because they were worried about the facilitator’s reaction. And thus, I don’t think that this method of “silent denotes agreement” is an effective facilitation method. And if you do use it – at a minimum, give participants an opportunity to provide additional feedback in some fashion after the meeting, whether by way of a comment box, white board, or an online survey. None of us know everything, so create an environment where people can gently push back and share their suggestions. There are undoubtedly some gold nuggets out there!

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