🗣 Diversity is useless if you’re not hearing all voices

Feeling that your voice is heard is an important part of feeling included in a team.

As a leader, you need to encourage everyone to speak up in larger meetings, and create a healthy meeting dynamic where everyone’s voice is heard and respected, even if it’s contrary – especially if it’s contrary!

Why it matters?

To properly leverage diversity of thought on your team, it’s important to draw out and capitalise on different opinions – even actively solicit conflict.

In fact, the way that the most creative, innovative and successful teams generate great ideas is through a process and a culture known as creative abrasion.

The bottom line: the more diversity of thought in your team, the more creative abrasion you can harness for high-quality ideas – provided you can effectively draw out those ideas.

5 top tips to hear all voices in meetings

The secret to harnessing diversity of thought in meetings is effective facilitation.

Every major meeting needs a designated facilitator to set and communicate the purpose, steer the conversation, and watch out for blockers to an equitable, productive conversation.

Here are 5 tips (and in fact best practices) to draw out ideas from everyone in any meeting:

It’s important to give everyone in the room a voice from the start – even if that’s a simple round of intros.

This will ensure no one feels alienated or out-of-place, a common experience for introverts, members of ‘outgroups’, and more junior teammates, particularly where they feel out of place in a meeting.

And according to Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet, if you don’t engage these people early on, their ideas are less likely to get airtime as the conversation may go in the direction set by the first people to speak up.

Great facilitators proactively draw out the freshest thinking from everyone around the table. Here are some top tactics for doing so:

💡 Kick-off discussions by posing an open-ended question. Our favourite: “How might we…”. Give only the necessary context — not your own hypothesis. As a leader, starting by giving your own thoughts might colour the conversation.

💡 Ask the most junior person (or people) their thoughts first. This is a tip we heard from John Cleese, of all people, and it’s a way to empower less-experienced people in the business to be candid, particularly when that means being contrary.

💡 Break into pairs to discuss for a few minutes first, then go back around the room to let each pair share their thoughts. This idea of “thinking partners” is advocated by Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think.

Reframing is the essence of mediation. It is a deliberate and clear intervention to state what should be on the table at that point, and where necessary, offering a guiding question.

A reframe could be drawing the attention back to the agenda with a reminder or suggesting conversations that threaten to derail the agenda are picked up at another time.

However, it can also be a way of restating issues in ways that open them up. Where a reframe can really elevate inclusion is maintaining the flow when something is tripped up or someone is shut down.

There’s a raft of research revealing that men are particularly guilty of interrupting women – in one study on conversation, 96% of interruptions were a man interrupting a woman, and 100% of overlaps were a man speaking over a woman.

Remember, Kanye West stealing a microphone at the VMAs from Taylor Swift on live TV in 2009? That was one of the most cringe-worthy and iconic interruptions in history. 

So how can you prevent it?

💡Stop the interrupter in his or her tracks.

💡 At the beginning of meetings, reiterate the value of hearing from everyone.

Problems with miserable commutes, children to take to daycare, or dental appointments on the opposite end of the city from your office can all be mitigated by one of the hottest new workplace trends: flexible, remote working policies.

But remote working has its own share of problems with collaboration and communication – especially with respect to meetings – as one major hot-button issue for remote workers.

To help make meetings easier for your remote colleagues, put in the following prep:

💡Book meetings in timeslots that are suitably aligned with everyone’s schedules, accounting for differences in timezones and personal priorities.

💡Make sure to send around any digital copies of print-outs for your remote workers in advance.

💡Have a Google Hangouts, Zoom, or other video-conferencing service link included in every meeting invitation, to avoid the scramble to get your remote workers on the line at the last minute.

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If you want a team where everyone is passionate about sharing ideas and comfortable speaking their mind, you’ll have to help create that behavior. Have open and frequent communication within your team, be inclusive, listen to everyone’s voice and treat each tiny voice with equal importance.

Drawing out different views in meetings results in creative abrasion that lead to a diversity of thought and new solutions. Getting diverse POVs also harnesses a group’s capacity to innovate.

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Want to learn how you can build a more inclusive workplace? Check out our insights, articles, guides and more on the Resources section of our website.

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