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Valuing All Voices

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Have you ever been in a meeting and one person dominated the entire discussion? As a participant, this can be excruciating to endure. As a leader, it poses an important challenge. While the individual’s voice should be honored, it should also be managed to create opportunities for all participants to be heard.

When we are doing meetings right, we are using that time to collaboratively discuss and get team feedback for decision-making. We need all team member perspectives, so we can make the best decisions. Listening to only one or a few dominant voices during a meeting jeopardizes the reliability of our decisions.

Equalize Voices In The Room

Valuing all voices often requires the use of specific strategies to engage all participants when facilitating a meeting or employee forum event. Consider the physical environment, agenda items, and mix of meeting participants, when deciding which strategy is most appropriate for equalizing voices in the room at your next meeting.

Sticky Notes

At the start of the meeting, provide each participant with a small stack of sticky notes. At the appropriate times during the meeting, prompt them to write their feedback and ideas on the sticky notes. Then, ask them to either post them is designated areas to aid in consensus-building or further discussion. You might also ask them to use the notes to engage in a Think-Pair-Share or Gallery Walk.

Think-Pair-Share

Think-Pair-Share is used to encourage collaboration, while minimizing whole-group discussion. Ask participants to first Think about a question or topic on their own. Then, ask them to Pair up with another participant to discuss their response or ideas. The last step of the process is for one member of the pair to Share a summary of the discussion.

Gallery Walk

A Gallery Walk capitalizes on silence as a vehicle for deep thought and team reflection. Space on a white board or a series of chart papers hung around the room serve as the gallery wall. Topic headings or questions are added to each piece of paper or section of white board to designate the focus for participants. Participants are asked to use either Sticky Notes or markers to add their thoughts to the paper or board. Once each participant has added his/her original thought, they are asked to silently rotate around the room and read what others wrote. Some versions of this exercise allow for participants to comment or add to the original remarks, as they rotate.

Parking Lot

The Parking Lot is where we put additional ideas that are not necessarily aligned to purpose of the meeting. We capture them because we want to honor the person providing the feedback, but we decide not to engage in discussion on the topic and instead direct focus back to the meeting agenda. Many teams create a visual Parking Lot on a white board or chart paper and offer Sticky Notes so participants can “park” their ideas that should be discussed at a later time.

Role of Standards and Norms

In addition to strategies that help us hear from everyone in the room, it is also important to consider the role of standards of practice and team norms. If the organization has standards or norms that communicate the value in hearing from all meeting participants, consider whether the standards should be revisited. It might even be necessary to retrain employees on the standards or norms.

Valuing All Voices in 4 Steps

Communicate Intended Outcome & Expectations

One of the most effective ways to proactively manage dominant voices is to communicate details and expectations for the meeting in advance. When sending the meeting invitation, ensure you clearly state the purpose and intended outcome for the meeting.

It is also helpful to include expectations for participant involvement ahead of time. If you plan to use the Think-Pair-Share strategy, for example, tell participants to expect an “opportunity to engage in discussion with a partner and one member of the pair will summarize for the larger group.” The pre-meeting communication might also reference team standards or norms.

Leverage the Agenda

Reinforce the meeting purpose, expectations, and process for reaching the objective by having and following a meeting agenda aligned to pre-meeting communication. The agenda should also be shared in advance of the meeting, which serves as a visual example of the structure and expectations communicated in the meeting invitation note. The agenda can be leveraged as a way to redirect should any one voice begin to take over during the meeting. Team standards or norms can be added across the top or bottom of the agenda.

Use a Valuing All Voices Strategy

Decide which valuing all voices strategy will be most effective for your meeting and your team. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and the varying personalities of your meeting participants. Which strategy will best support achievement of the meeting objective? Prepare or collect any materials in advance that might be needed to successfully implement the strategy.

Ask for Feedback & Adjust

Ask participants for feedback about the effectiveness of the valuing all voices strategy. You can ask for their thoughts at the end of the meeting or as part of your meeting follow-up. Consider asking for a 1 – 5 rating or a thumbs-up/thumbs-down judgement. If the request for feedback is after the meeting, you could ask participants to provide specific comments about the strategy via email. Then, use the feedback to improve your technique or to inform how you might use a different strategy in the future.

The Fine Line

Most of the time, the dominant voices on our teams don’t even realize they are dominating. Other times, the behavior is deliberate. If the behavior is persistent and disruptive to the team, it will need to be addressed by the leader. There is a fine line between providing a passionate perspective and violating values.

The Power of Silence

Silent feedback may seem like an oxymoron, but it can be a powerful tool for collective brainstorming and reflection. In a meeting, ask each participant to write his/her response to a given question or prompt. Then, ask them to pass their papers to right, read what their colleague wrote, and provide comments or a reaction. Continue rotating the papers until each paper gets back to its owner. Ask the owner to review all comments and provide a one sentence summary about the contents of the entire page.

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