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How to get those silent workers to open up

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Silent workers Most teams have them—members who complete their assigned tasks well enough, but never have much to say during team meetings. If you’re like most team leaders, these “silent workers” are frustrating. You know they have something to contribute, but they never seem to open up. How do you reach these silent workers? It depends on why they keep quiet. Is it shyness, fear or apathy?

Shyness. Shy employees are easy to spot. They’re fairly talkative one-on-one, but in a group, they’re attentive but quiet. Make note of the context. Do these people really never participate? Or do they clam up when certain subjects are discussed, or when certain people are holding the floor, or during certain types discussions, like back-and-forth debates?

What to try: Note when your silent/shy workers seem most comfortable, or when you sense they have a strong feeling about the topic. Then invite their input. A blanket “What do you think?” may work, but it may cause a shy person to freeze. If so, simply ask if they agree or disagree, and then elaborate. Thank the person for his or her contribution and build on it any way you can. Shy workers need to hear your acceptance of what they say.

Fear. If it’s not shyness, it may be fear that keeps the silent worker in his or her shell. It can be fear of criticism or fear of reprisal by management for expressing an opposing or unpopular point of view.

What to try: Create a “fear-free zone.” Certainly you need to refrain from attacking or dismissing a team member’s input, no matter how off base it is. You also need to encourage others from being critical. You could also invite fearful workers to discuss their ideas with you in a comfortable one-on-one before bringing them up with the team.

Apathy. These people just don’t really care too much about their work or the team process to participate In this case, silence is a symptom of a bigger problem—one you’re best off dealing with directly. Often such employees will demonstrate their apathy in other aspects of their performance.

What to try: Address their lack of motivation and its effect on their performance, and show them how their personal prospects depend on the success of the team. This approach will help many unmotivated workers decide to play a bigger, more active role on their team. If their apathy is severe or dragging down others, you may need to put them on notice that they will be placed on your organization’s disciplinary track.

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