I’m back on my Harvard Business Review blog again, and I read a great article by Andy Molinsky, “Encourage Foreign-Born Employees to Participate More in Meetings.” Here are some of the points he made about why our non-native counterparts might not chime in during meetings:
- The culture of the country from which the employee came does not look fondly on, or considers it inappropriate, to speak one’s mind in front of others.
- Joining in the conversation requires that an employee has a better command of language than he perhaps feels he has.
- She just doesn’t have the personality that would allow her to speak up.
As I was reading the article, I could definitely understand why it might be a challenge for a manager to successfully encourage a foreign-born employee to talk. But I know a lot of wallflowers born right here in the United States that could really have an impact on their organization’s direction if they just spoke up a little bit! How can you help your manager get the most from his whole group?
Here are a few suggestions:
Help those who are not clear understand what participation in a meeting looks like – As Andy Molinsky mentioned in his article, “Make it clear…what effective participation looks like: point them to models of others who participate [in meetings] effectively and connect them with mentors who can help them learn the tricks of the trade.” Additionally, your manager can start the meeting by providing participation guidelines and expectations. Write out some bullet points to give him a head start!
Frame the quiet meeting attendee as the expert in his area and solicit his response – Your manager might be more successful with a quiet meeting attendee if he points out to that attendee and the rest of the group that his perspective is unique and his opinion valued because of the knowledge he possesses on the subject. When you’re preparing the agenda, you can star areas where you feel your manager might be able to coax participation from certain quiet members.
Link the results of group participation to actual business results – Help your manager do this when you’re preparing the agenda and reviewing the minutes from the last meeting. Did John or Sue mention something in last week’s meeting that was put into action and resulted in an uptick in numbers? Remind your manager to say something about that in the next meeting. The group will realize very quickly that participation equals results.
Acknowledge – don’t discount! – participants’ contributions – When your manager says, “That’s a good point!” or “Please go on,” he appears to be engaged with what the group is saying and will encourage the meeting attendees to say more. Conversely, saying, “That’s irrelevant,” or “Is there anything else?” will discourage participation.
Intentionally keep quiet during a meeting – People hate silence! If your manager poses a question, he might be tempted to keep talking when no one comments. Sometimes the pregnant pause is just enough to get other people talking. And maybe they’ve just been waiting for a chance to speak up!
Give people who are reluctant to participate an extra boost – An unusually quiet person might need to be encouraged and supported more than your manager thinks. Schedule time for him to sit down with his direct report and find out exactly what’s so intimidating or unpalatable about participating in meetings. Is it the high level of assertiveness, the directness? Finding out more about it, and talking about it one-on-one, might be the start of solving the problem.
Everyone is walking around with a good idea, and it’s that good idea that might take your organization’s success to the next level. Help your manager get people talking in meetings, so those ideas are uncovered sooner rather than later!
Next Post: Wednesday, May 14