Getting Juniors to Speak Up
Those with less experience or who are new to a team often find it hard to say what’s on their mind. The courage to speak up and express candid viewpoints in front of tenured colleagues who think they know more can prove elusive.
More junior teammates find safety by observing and allowing others to create the advocacy that moves decisions forward. Staying under the radar will quickly become a pattern that is hard to break, even when they feel strongly about an issue.
Good leaders know this and find it unacceptable to allow the less experienced voices to be silenced by the need to respect others.
To combat this problem, the best leaders commonly ask the most junior or inexperienced team members for their opinions first, especially in a group settings. Additionally, they seek out the opinions of the more junior team members in individual conversations designed to gather views important to a decision. By moving toward the less vocal voices first, leaders level the playing field and refuse to allow seniority and experience dominate the opinion set.
When hierarchies create layers of senior and junior team members, skip-level meetings also offer less experienced colleagues a chance to explore issues and register their views. In these peer or mostly-peer meetings, leaders solicit opinions and questions on every topic relevant to those in attendance.
By holding skip-level meetings on a consistent basis, junior team members come to depend on the forum to express their views and sometimes find the confidence for a larger voice in regular team meetings.
The bottom line is the need to solicit the opinions of everyone on the team, regardless of tenure. Because junior team members often hold back or lack the courage to speak up in meetings, the best leaders courageously ask for their views first.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, but courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”