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Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace
HOW TO STOP EMPLOYEES FROM CLAMMING UP

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Fewer than half of all employees feel free to voice their opinions.

THE PROBLEM

Last month, during a pep talk to the troops, a brave US soldier serving in Iraq dared to ask Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a challenging question. He asked why US soldiers needed to scavenge through landfills to find armor to protect their vehicles. Speaking up in this way was shocking. Soldiers are usually too intimidated to challenge their leaders.

The same holds true in all organizations. Less than half of working employees feel free to voice their opinions. They feel it is safer to just keep their mouths shut. Unfortunately, this poses many problems, including:

  • A lack of innovative ideas bubbling up from frontline employees;

  • Faulty decisions by groups because individuals are afraid to disagree;

  • The waste of valuable time due to meetings in which nobody voices their opinions;

  • Vital information not being shared with others in the organization;

  • Unnecessary, and often paralyzing, stress for employees; and

  • The inability of organizations to develop leadership talent at the lower ranks.

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HOW TO GET EMPLOYEES TO VOICE THEIR OPINIONS

  1. Start at the Top

    Senior management should continually ask employees for their views and thank them for their suggestions. When appropriate, they should also use the suggestion and tell the employee that it was heard and appreciated.

  2. Ask Open-ended Questions

    Ask questions that will elicit more than one-word answers. Use open-ended questions such as, "How do you feel about this?" or "Why do you think this is true?" or "Please tell me more about that."

  3. Use Self-disclosures

    It can very powerful and contagious for senior managers to display openness themselves. For example, a CEO could stand up in front of employees and say something like "As you know, we recently made a decision to acquire another company but I felt very torn about the decision and had many doubts such as . . . . What are your doubts?"

  4. Catch People in the Act

    When an employee makes a comment, suggestion or criticism, go out of your way to acknowledge their remarks. Sincerely thank them, being careful not to be patronizing. This will not only increase the probability that the person will speak up again, it will also help promote a spirit of openness that will spread to others.

  5. Look Inside

    Fear of speaking up is often a cultural issue that pervades all levels of an organization, not just frontline employees. I was at a meeting recently of department heads. An officer of the company said to the group, "We seem to have a problem here. Our employees do not feel free to voice their opinions openly. Any ideas about why this is so and what we can do about it?"

    Guess what happened? Nobody spoke up. I told them that if they really wanted to understand the problem, they needed only to look inside and think about why they themselves were hesitant right now to voice their opinions.

CONCLUSION

An environment in which employees are scared to voice their opinions breeds inefficiency. Instead, create an open atmosphere in which there will be no negative consequences if someone speaks up.

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