Listening to Your Quietest Employees: Why & How

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Taking the time to listen to your employees can have a huge impact on your organisational performance

But every organisation that starts taking
employee voice seriously quickly finds out that some people are a lot quicker to speak up than others. And since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, your loudest employees’ ideas tend to be the ones that get implemented.

Which is fair enough, right? If your people stay tight lipped about any problems they have after you’ve invited them to speak up, that’s surely on them?

Read on to discover why it’s not quite that simple – and learn how to make sure your quietest employees don’t get overlooked.

Introverts vs extroverts

Introvert vs Extrovert

The world is broadly split into two kinds of people: introverts and extroverts.

Generally speaking, introverts:

 

  • Enjoy their own company. 
  • Get drained by too much socialising.
  • Don’t like conflict.
  • Aren’t interested in being in the spotlight.
  • Get overwhelmed in large groups and tend to shut down. 
  • Need time to think carefully about something before speaking.


In contrast, extroverts:

 

  • Don’t like spending time alone.
  • Find social situations stimulating.
  • Are more willing to take risks.
  • Thrive being the centre of attention.
  • Aren’t phased by large groups.
  • Like to talk through their thought process out loud with someone else.


Of course, personality types exist on a broad spectrum. Most of us have some traits from one side of the divide and some from the other – or are introverted in some situations and extroverted in others. For example, it’s rare to find someone who’s just as talkative among a group of strangers as they are in a group of their closest friends.

But you can see how a stereotypical introvert – someone who doesn’t like speaking up in front of a group of people and avoids conflict like the plague – is going to need to overcome a fair few hurdles to have their voice heard at work.

The fact is: some of the most powerful voices in your organisation can be the quietest. You just need to be listening.

Four simple ways to listen better to quiet employees at work

Just because an employee is slow to speak up doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of insights to contribute. They might just need a bit more coaxing out of their shell then some of their more extroverted teammates.

Here are four simple ways to make your quietest employees feel comfortable speaking up:

1. Seek out their opinions

Because they tend to avoid conflict, introverts aren’t likely to be the ones to bring up an awkward subject or say something that might rock the boat. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty to say about it.

Once a sticky subject has been broached, your quieter teammates’ are often open to chiming in with their two cents. But you might still have to actively seek out their thoughts during meetings or Zoom calls. 

This might be a step too far for your quietest employees. So, asking particularly shy teammates for their thoughts on a topic that might turn contentious during a one-to-one or over Slack is often the way to go.

2. Spread the load

Because introverts tend to get overwhelmed in groups and feel uncomfortable being the centre of attention, you might rarely hear from them in meetings. 

Which tends to leave their more extroverted teammates driving discussions. Which isn’t all bad, since it shows those employees are truly
engaged. But when the same handful of people do all the talking, you’re not going to hear the diverse perspectives quieter people might bring to the table. Do nothing to change that dynamic and your introverted employees are going to really have to push themselves out of their comfort zone to have their voice heard.

An easy way to open discussions up a bit is introducing a “microphone” to meetings – a token that gets passed around to indicate who has the floor. To get more voices involved in each meeting, you could set a rule that everyone has to have had the microphone before the current speaker gets it again. Or that the current speaker can pass the mic to anyone other than the person they received it from. 

If you’re looking for something a bit less formal, you could ask managers to invite quieter employees to contribute more when they think it’s a topic they’d be comfortable speaking up about. A lot of quieter employees will appreciate being given a chance to get a word in between their more outspoken colleagues.

3. Give them time to prepare

Since they tend to need time to form their thoughts, introverts often struggle to offer a quick opinion on anything. Which means they often don’t get the chance to share their thoughts on a subject if it’s brought up out of the blue in a meeting. 

A simple and effective way to make introverts feel more comfortable speaking up is to set a clear agenda for every meeting and one-to-one. Distributing these agendas to your teammates in advance and asking them to arrive prepared to discuss each point is a surefire way of making it more likely that your quieter employees’ will feel comfortable speaking up.

If they’ve had the chance to get their thoughts in order, your quieter employees are also more likely to see you calling on them to contribute to a meeting as an opportunity to have their say rather than an ambush.

4. Give them the tools to speak up

Last but not least, employee surveys are a simple and effective way to give your quieter employees a strong voice in your company.

They give your introverted teammates the chance to think their responses through rather than being put on the spot and have their say without having to speak up in front of a group. And because employee surveys are anonymous, your introverted employees don’t have to worry that sharing their honest opinions is going to lead to conflict.

You can also empower your quietest employees with tools like
Hive Open Door and Hive Messenger, which let them share their views in an easy, stress-free, and confidential way at any time.

Open Door Image

Giving remote employees a voice

If hybrid organisations aren’t careful, it’s easy for their remote employees to feel like they have less of a voice than their teammates who work from the office – especially the quiet ones.

But just because someone works remotely doesn’t mean they’re not as engaged as their teammates who work in the office. And it doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of ideas about how to improve the way you do things or finetune your company culture.

Which is why running frequent employee surveys is even more important for organisations with a
hybrid workforce, as they give remote employees as much of a say in how things get done as their teammates who work from the office. 

If they don’t have this channel to express themselves through, it can be easy for your remote employees to feel like they don’t have a voice – especially the quieter ones. And this can have a huge impact on how happy and engaged they are at work.

Working from home

The final word

Taking the time to seek out your quietest employees’ thoughts can reap huge rewards for your business. After all, “quiet people have the loudest minds”, as Stephen Hawking said – and listening to those people will help you unlock the full power of employee voice.

Stick to the tips we’ve outlined here to ensure even your most introverted employees have their say when it comes to the way organisation does things. 

Grab your copy of The Power of Employee Voice today to find out more about how listening to each and every one of your employees can transform your organisation.

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The Power of Employee Voice

How an open and honest culture drives employee experience and organisational performance

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