11 ways leaders can encourage employees to speak freely

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Some professionals have no trouble speaking their minds in the workplace. However, there are others who may have some of the best ideas to contribute but are simply too nervous to speak up.

The Business Journals

Leaders should encourage all their employees to speak freely, but sometimes special emphasis needs to be put on the ones who are too timid or introverted. Here, 11 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss the best ways for leaders to encourage employees to be less afraid to speak freely.

1. Practice transparent, honest communication.
An employee that is afraid to speak up is often the result of the actions of someone in a position of authority. Transparent and honest communication from people in upper-level positions empowers effective communication. People who are in positions of authority must learn to listen actively. Do not just try to think of the next thing to say — listen, digest and then respond. – Lane Conner, Fuzse

2. Create a safe space for introverts to talk.
Different personalities want to share ideas differently. Extroverts can sometimes overpower a room without knowing it, so I make sure that I create a safe space where introverts can come to me and openly discuss anything they care to share in a private setting. I reassure everyone and involve them in planning things so they feel encouraged by sharing their ideas and making them come to life. – Messina Truttman, Beck Flavors

3. Be approachable, appreciative, act on input.
If employees are afraid to speak freely, it may be a symptom of another problem. The corporate culture may allow or encourage intimidation, or leadership may not be approachable or too judgmental. To encourage active input from employees, leaders must: 1. Be approachable and truly interested; 2. Be appreciative of employee input; 3. Act on meaningful input where warranted. – Doug Kinsey, Artifex Financial Group

4. Reward innovation and try something new.
Elon Musk once said that the biggest problem in many organizations is that they encourage playing it safe. The risk often means making mistakes, and mistakes are often punished. Think about how you can reward innovation and try something new, even if it means messing something up at some point. It has to be a part of your company culture. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

5. Create a safe culture and value diversity.
Create a safe culture and environment that values the diversity of thinking that every single person brings to the table. If employees are connected to the values and purpose of a business, and they understand the importance of their role, then they also respect the contributions of others as everyone is aligned. Then curiosity and conversation grow, and great ideas will flow. – Joanna Swash, Moneypenny

6. Actively listen and be consistent.
Listen when they talk and be consistent. If you are pushing for “openness” as a team but fly off the handle at the smallest infringement, you remove the comfort level. Be moderate and listen. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

7. Ask questions to seek insight and experience.
Ask questions of the team to seek their insight and experience. When talking through an issue, let employees speak first and then replay what you hear. When a decision is made, explain the thought process and how their input shaped the decision. – Jason Comstock, Clarity Technology Solutions LLC

8. Show humility, humor, self-depreciation.
I think a big part of the process is showing traits of humility, humor and a healthy little dose of self-deprecation to get your team feeling comfortable. In brainstorming sessions, I also like throwing out a crazy, off-the-wall idea to help get the ball rolling and to disarm everyone. Showing authenticity and vulnerability helps build trust over time while also encouraging others to use their voices. – Scott Harkey, OH Partners

9. Discuss opportunities and challenges.
Have weekly meetings with your entire team where you discuss opportunities and challenges and allow employees the space to be able to present their thoughts and feedback on how to effectively overcome those challenges. They could bring some great ideas that weren’t thought of before. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Invest time to interact with employees.
A reason why employees are afraid to speak freely is that they don’t know their leaders. Many leaders don’t invest enough time with their employees, and their interactions are typically an exchange between a leader asking an employee to perform a task. If leaders want employees to speak freely and care about the organization, they need to invest their time with employees. – Quoc Nguyen, Arthur Lawrence, LLC.

11. Hire a facilitator to establish relations.
Provide facilitation. Many employees are afraid to speak openly even when encouraged to do so because they fear the repercussions in case of saying something that the management does not agree with. An effective way to build a culture of “freedom of speech” is to hire a professional facilitator who helps establish the right environment and the necessary relations between managers and employees. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

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