work

That quietest person has the answer; but we’ll never hear

This other day I’m in another meeting, actually an enjoyable one with a charity, with a couple employees and about 10 volunteers. And at some point we’re trying to figure it out. The it being, why aren’t all volunteers on the project willing to do a certain task?

So I try steering the conversation by considering volunteer motivations and conversely their reservations. This gets a couple useful additions from others. But we’re still not there yet and at the hour mark there’s a few who’ve been resolutely silent: about four.

Addressing two of them, but really asking at the shyest-looking, I ask how they feel about this. I press them a bit. She shuffles, a bit.

“Well, I was worried because I would share too much and then everyone else would feel overwhelmed.”

The room’s reaction: “Woh!”

So this one volunteer could have contributed all this time – but she was worried, worried about being too much.

Perfect irony.

In most meetings of a certain size there’s always one or two people like that who sit there suspiciously quietly. Others maybe thinking they’re not team players; or at least blurt out a few words to avoid suspicion. And so often because persons have good reason to feel left on the margins and so don’t speak.

We can do better:

  • At the start of any meeting with new faces ensure everyone is introduced.
  • By the end ensure you get feedback from everyone. Even on online calls: ask for it by name.
  • Instead of asking them for the answer; flip it and have them rephrase the question.
  • And if someone is someone is still too shy, ask one-on-one after.
  • And in workshops, there is nothing wrong on picking on people, politely, to contribute.
  • Better yet, do meetings standing up: keeps it short and everyone stays standing until done!
  • (Or maybe the meeting just is contemptible.)
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