If you ask what motivates your employees, it's a safe bet one of the top answers would be, "When the boss listens to me."
People want to feel that their views, experiences and opinions matter. If you let them speak up and share their ideas—and ask follow-up questions to show that you really want to learn—that's a priceless motivational tool.
Consider how you run staff meetings. Like tough law professors, the best managers call on individuals who were silent during previous discussions.
Lazy managers, by contrast, equate silence with agreement. They assume that the quiet people are on board.
By recognizing employees who haven't spoken, you signal your interest in finding out whether they truly accept the consensus view. As a bonus, you can evaluate the extent to which silent, inexpressive people are paying attention or daydreaming.
The next time you hash out strategy in a group, turn to a quiet employee and ask, "What do you think?" Wait patiently if the person slowly chimes in. Some individuals who do not give prompt responses appreciate being given extra time to formulate their thoughts.
As you listen, reserve judgment. Resist the urge to say, "That's a great idea." If you compliment Joe's comments but fail to praise Jim's comments, you can demotivate Jim.
Also, encourage the rest of your staff to question each other. If they analyze their colleagues' views and try to learn more, they can affirm each other's place on the team.
Watch the clock as meetings wind down. You want to give everyone a chance to speak without giving short shrift to a quiet contributor's thoughts as people pack up leave. Save time in the closing minutes to hear what the silent clams have to say.