Have you ever been in a meeting where you needed to interrupt others just to get your idea shared, or tuned out because it’s always the same people talking? Me too. What’s worse than participating in that kind of meeting, is leading that meeting. Especially when you have a few quiet voices and want to make sure they feel seen and heard, too.
I often get asked by other leaders: How can I make sure everyone’s voice is heard when we are doing strategic planning?
The answer is not as simple as just asking the quiet person in the room what they are thinking. I have found there are a few common reasons why someone is quiet in a meeting.
4 REASONS PEOPLE STAY QUIET IN MEETINGS:
- They don’t think what they have to say matters. (this might be their insecurities but it could also be a leader who doesn’t value other people’s ideas)
- They might be more of an introvert, and they’re not going to “fight” to be heard.
- They may need time to process what is being discussed before they share something out loud.
- They think or feel like the decision has already been made.
If you want to hear everyone’s voice during a meeting, you need to first ask yourself, “Why”? Is it that you really value their thoughts and opinions, or do you just want everyone to agree with you and make people feel like they participated? Let’s be real. Leaders typically know where they want to go in conversation, so it can be difficult to honestly ask your self that question and allow other people to put their hand on the steering wheel.
Much of what goes into creating space for all of the voices in the room happens before the meeting. It involves trust that comes from valuing everyone’s thoughts and ideas. It involves 1-on-1 meetings asking people what they honestly think, and then putting into practice the helpful feedback you receive.
I have learned that in order to hear everyone’s voice I need to send a few of the questions we are going to process ahead of time. This gives individuals on my team time to think and process on their own before we all process ideas together.
If you really want some great ideas to guide your strategic planning, allow people to simmer on their thoughts for a while. Not everyone operates like an insta-pot. Some people are more like crockpots, they need time.
EXAMPLE: Here’s what I mean . . .
Recently our team did a strategic planning day centered around a few questions. I sent those questions and discussion items out ahead of time because I really wanted our team to guide the planning process. I knew they had a better chance of participation if I gave them extra time to think about the questions.
Then we got together and started by writing answers to the questions on a creative map, rather than jumping straight into conversation. I drew a pathway with some “artistic” features that gave our team time to brainstorm without even speaking a word to each other. (Note: drawing images that help guide conversation, like the one below, bring life to the meeting, and it’s better than a boring sheet of paper)
First, I asked everyone to write down their thoughts on the sheets of paper. Then, I asked people to read what others wrote and see if that spurred on additional thoughts for them. They had 10 more minutes to revisit their own answers. In just a short amount of time, we had all of the pages covered with great thoughts and ideas, without saying a word.
A lot of threats and frustrations were eliminated in this exercise. No one had to raise their voice or talk over others to be heard. No one had to worry if what they said was articulate. No names were added to the comments so unless someone memorized everyone else’s handwriting, no one knew exactly who wrote what. And it took minutes, not hours, to go around the room. All the thoughts were voiced in a written form in a short period of time.
After the team finished, we stepped back and looked at the big picture of our collective answers. Then we themed the answers. Those themes helped guide the next steps in creating our strategic plan for the next 3 months.
And if there was a question about a comment on paper, I loved asking, “Who wrote….?” This gave space and permission for individual thoughts to be heard as we clarified the themes and next steps.
If this sounds like something you need help with, then here are a few strategic planning questions for you.
Strategic Planning Questions:
- What’s working well right now?
- What do we need to take with us?
- Where do we have momentum?
- What potholes do we need to avoid?
- What meaningful conversations have we had?
- What are opportunities?
- What are road blocks?
- What do you see on the horizon?
- What are the possibilities in the next 3 months?
If you decide to give this style of strategic planning a try, let me know how it works for you! Give me a shout at the bottom of mattgraybill.com