This tip may sound obvious, but it may help the meeting to let workers know that you want to know their thoughts on a topic. Otherwise, they may assume that they’re expected to just listen, instead of contributing to the conversation. When you start the meeting and ask for their comments, let them know that they don’t have to just respond to your thoughts—encourage them to respond to each other, too.
Let your team know that all comments are welcome. Don’t be too overbearing or dominate the meeting. If a worker is scared to speak up, their great idea may never come to light—but that’s exactly what meetings are for. Unless the specific purpose of the meeting is for you to share new information, if you’re doing most of the talking, you may need to step back and re-evaluate the way you run your meetings.
Some staff members may not participate simply because they’re still trying to gather their thoughts about the topic at hand. To help them prepare, send out an email listing the items that will be discussed during the meeting. They’ll have more time to think about what they’d like to say, and as a result the quality of discussion will improve.
You’ll also get better results based on the types of questions you ask. Saying “What do you think of this idea?” will of course elicit more interesting (and longer) responses than saying, “This is our plan. Sound good?” In other words, if you want better discourse at your meetings, you have to ask questions that will prompt responses that are more than just one-word answers.
Sometimes, people feel more likely to speak up in small groups. If you’re holding a meeting with a group of people and you know some of them are quieter, consider having breakout sessions. They may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas with just a few people, as opposed to a group of twenty.
If you’re discussing an issue that’s particularly sensitive, consider having workers write down their responses anonymously and submitting them to you. You can then discuss each point as you read them out loud, if it’s something that needs discussion immediately, or you can save them to review later if the topic doesn’t need attention right away.
Instead of asking questions that make it seem like you want a specific answer, present your question as an invitation to brainstorming. As blogger Lou Belcher writes, “…instead of asking the group to ‘…name the one marketing strategy that will work for this product,’ ask the group to ‘…brainstorm all the marketing strategies that might be good for this product.’”
On top of trying out the tips above, you may even consider asking your staff about what they think would improve participation at meeting. They might notice some problem with the way meetings progress that you didn’t even notice.
What are your ideas for encouraging more participation in meetings?
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