In the workplace, how often do you say things are fine when they’re really not? How often do you go along with an idea or initiative, even though you disagree with a few parts of the plan? How often do you keep quiet about a co-worker’s annoying or unproductive behavior? If you’ve ever faced repercussions for speaking up, chances are, you’ll think twice before doing so again.
And that’s a shame! Innovations and improvements are often born through dissention. When the workplace settles for “business as usual,” it tends to stagnate. Worse, if the majority continues to make most decisions and set the tone/culture of the workplace, voices are silenced and entire groups of people begin to feel as if they don’t matter.
That’s where feedback comes into play.
In a safe work environment, people share their ideas, perspectives, opinions, and concerns without fear of retribution. Additionally, they know they’re being heard and that others are willing to take action, if appropriate.
How do you create an environment that encourages honest feedback and protects those who choose to speak up? Try the following 5 methods:
1. Create Anonymous Channels
While it’s natural to give certain feedback off-the-cuff in a public setting (such as a team meeting), other feedback might warrant a little more privacy. For instance, if someone is uncomfortable with a co-worker’s words or actions, they may want to deliver that feedback privately or even anonymously.
To facilitate this type of feedback, you have several options. You could set up an anonymous online feedback system, which essentially acts like a suggestion box. Or you could take a more proactive approach and regularly send out surveys that request feedback. Make sure your team knows these anonymous options are available to them in addition to other feedback channels, such as one-on-one meetings.
2. Form Focus Groups
Many people are more willing to open up and share ideas or perspectives when working in a small-group setting. Focus groups can help facilitate a valuable exchange of ideas, cultivate conversation, and promote positive changes. Typically, a focus group will concentrate on a certain topic (improving accessibility, uplifting/supporting female-identifying workers, starting community outreach initiatives, etc.) and be comprised of people who have a personal stake in the topic or can offer some valuable insights.
3. Provide Equal Speaking Opportunities
Far too often, the loudest voice(s) at the table make the bulk of the decisions and determine the team’s trajectory. That tends to sideline quieter individuals or those afraid to go against the grain. To provide equal speaking opportunities for all, try any of the following tactics:
- Assign a meeting leader/facilitator and make sure everyone regularly has the chance to lead.
- Ask specific individuals for their thoughts during the meeting (especially if those individuals tend to be shy or reserved).
- Use breakout sessions during larger team meetings to encourage small-group idea generation.
- Refrain from making decisions too quickly. Allow time to gather feedback, data, and perspectives.
4. Engage in One-On-One Meetings
There’s no better way to learn about your people than to regularly meet with them. During private meetings, make sure to ask open-ended questions, encourage dialogue, and be an excellent listener. Many of us have the tendency to focus on our own thoughts rather than engage in deep listening. I encourage you to truly listen, ask good questions, and aim to develop an understanding of the perspectives, concerns, tendencies, and goals of the person across the table.
Show you’re sincere about feedback by taking action when appropriate. It doesn’t do any good to collect mountains of feedback if you have no intention of using it. If you notice a trend in the feedback, if someone raises a particularly poignant concern, or if you encounter an intriguing/innovative idea, it’s a good idea to act. If appropriate, gather your team to discuss the feedback and talk about ways to implement it. If you take a genuine interest in facilitating positive change, your team will notice and appreciate your efforts.
It is difficult to advance as an organization if people feel as if they do not have a voice. Provide platforms for speaking up and speaking out! Empower your team to give authentic feedback, share ideas, and drive innovation. This is one of the most effective ways to amplify voices and foster positive change.