Use these powerful phrases to ensure every voice can be heard at work
As all of us strive to create a more human-centered and inclusive workplace where everyone can feel comfortable being who they are, leaders have a unique opportunity to help voices be heard at work.
Whether you’re in a formal leadership position or are participating on a committee, in a meeting, or on a project team, you have a role to play. You can help everyone have a chance to speak and be heard at work, whether you’re in charge of that scenario or not.
When every voice is heard your team will make better decisions, you’ll surface and solve problems earlier, you build engagement, ownership, and productivity. These scenario-specific powerful phrases will help you build an inclusive and effective culture. Here are phrases to use during:
- Idea Generation
- Group Discussions when People are Quiet
- Group Discussions when People are Ignored
- Decision-Making with Missing Stakeholders
- Decision-Making with Unclear Ownership
Where Does the Silence Come From?
Even with good intentions, it’s easy for teams to ignore, speak over, or inadvertently silence some people.
Energetic extroverts can get rolling and make it hard for the quieter folks to find an entry into the conversation.
Knowledgeable, passionate introverts who start talking can turn into steamrollers when they’re enthusiastic. People turn to the known subject matter experts or, lacking experts, the team members who have the loudest opinions.
Then there are the societal dynamics that affect teams and organizations. In the United States, women can be interrupted more often than men. People of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities may not be asked for their input or listened to at the same level as others.
In global teams, people from the company’s home country can have more of a voice than others. Lower socio-economic groups, less expressive cultures, or members of a recently acquired company can all face hurdles to be heard.
And these all-too-human tendencies don’t include more overt discrimination and favoritism.
It takes work to overcome these barriers to collaboration, trust, and effective teamwork and give everyone a chance to speak and be heard. And, this is something you can do whether you’re leading a group directly or as a member of a team. The first step is to cultivate awareness of everyone’s voice. Once you do, then it’s time to use your voice to help everyone be heard at work.
Powerful Phrases to Give Everyone a Chance to Speak and Be Heard at Work
There are several scenarios that can lead to unheard voices. Choose an approach that’s appropriate for the situation you’re in.
Scenario: Idea generation
During traditional brainstorming exercises, it is common for those with the most positional authority or passion for the topic to dominate the conversation. To get everyone’s voice into the mix, you can use a two-step process of silent writing first, then randomize the ideas, and the group shares them.
In an in-person setting, you might do this with note cards or sticky notes. In an online setting, you can use a shared form, document, or whiteboard. Once the ideas are in the room, then you can build on them.
If your group hasn’t done something like this before, here are some phrases you can use to introduce the subject:
- “I’m curious if we can try a new technique here?”
- “I’ve come across this way to generate more ideas, more quickly – can we give it a try?”
- “I think we’ve got an opportunity here to level up our brainstorming, would you be open to use it?”
Scenario: Group Discussion with Quiet Participants
During a discussion, you notice that some members of the group aren’t speaking or sharing their thoughts. Or, they’ve tried, but are being talked over. Here are phrases to address these situations and call your colleagues into the conversation.
- “I noticed that Diane was starting to say something…Diane, what were your thoughts?”
- “Dillon, we haven’t heard from you on this topic. I’d love to know what you think about how it will…”
- “Germaine, you have some experience with this, I’m curious what you think?”
- “Vivian, as you’ve been listening to this conversation, what’s coming up for you?”
- “Anish and Paula, how do you see it?”
These phrases give people an opportunity to contribute. They may not feel that they have something meaningful or worthwhile to share. When that happens, it’s okay. They know you invited them into the conversation. However, if that voluntary silence happens regularly, on a range of topics, it’s worth checking in individually to see if there are factors preventing them from engaging and make sure they can be heard at work.
Scenario: Group Discussion—People Ignored or Co-opted
In energetic or heated conversations, some people may speak, but have their ideas ignored or claimed by others. While effective teams build on one another’s ideas and everyone contributes selflessly, this requires an atmosphere of trust and respect. If that environment of trust and respect doesn’t yet exist, you can help. These phrases help build a culture of trust and respect for people’s ideas:
- “We interrupted you, please, will you finish your thought?”
- “Before we continue, I want to make sure we acknowledge [person] for that perspective. That was very helpful to move our conversation forward.”
- “We didn’t allow [person] to finish. I know we’re excited – and we need to make sure we’re getting everyone’s best thinking into the room.”
Scenario: Decisions—Missing Stakeholders
When people make decisions at work, important stakeholders can be left out of discussions. Hopefully, they weren’t consciously excluded. More often, people are absorbed in their usual way of doing things and didn’t think about who else would have a meaningful perspective on the decision.
Here are phrases you can use to give missing stakeholders a chance to speak and be heard:
- “This decision will affect [group], have we got their input yet?”
- “This will require significant time and people from [group], do we know their capacity right now?”
- “It looks like we don’t know how [group] will view this. Who can we ask to make sure this works for them too?”
- “To make the best decision here, we need input from [group]. Who can we ask for their perspective?”
Scenario: Decisions—Who Owns the Decision?
Another common challenge in decision-making that limits collaboration and prevents people from being heard is a lack of clarity regarding who owns the decision.
When the owner of the decision isn’t clear, people get frustrated and shut down. If you’ve ever heard someone say “I don’t know why you ask our opinion, you’re just going to do what you want anyway,” this is either a lack of clarity about who owns the decision (or an insincere request for input).
There are three common decision owners at work: a single person, a team via vote, or a team consensus. If you aren’t clear about who owns a decision, here are phrases to help clarify the owner and how everyone can best participate:
- “I’m unclear how this decision will be made. Are we voting? Using consensus? Or will you make the call on this one?”
- “Are you looking for a majority rule here or would you prefer a choice everyone can live with?”
- “It seems to me that we are not the ones making this decision. Is that right? And, if so, is it our role to make a recommendation to the person or group that will make the decision?”
Your team, department, and organization will make better-informed decisions, solve problems faster, and be more innovative when everyone has a chance to speak and be heard at work. Even better, you’ve built a culture where everyone can show up as themself, be comfortable, and contribute their best.
Whether you’re leading the conversation or participating in a group, you can increase collaboration and ensure the contribution of every voice by using these eighteen phrases.
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