A Psychologist’s Advice for Leaders Who Want to Raise Quiet Voices

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Dr. Mona Weiss has made a career out of studying why some people speak up at work, and why others keep quiet.

Across industries such as nursing and aviation, Dr. Weiss, Assistant Professor of Management and Diversity at the Free University of Berlin, has found that “employee voice” results from an important combination. Organizations that promote voice — that is, the act of speaking up with productive intent — simultaneously create the right cultures and empower individual employees who may fall on the shier side.

Dr. Weiss was a recent guest on NLI’s podcast series, “Your Brain at Work,” where she chatted with NLI Vice President of Consulting, Khalil Smith, about the challenges to — and potential solutions for — raising voices.

A major challenge for organizations, Dr. Weiss says, is accepting that speaking up is actually valuable. It’s not the case that employees are like teenagers speaking up to their parents. Voice is productive, so leaders must first assume positive intent. That means working to hear input and criticism not as a personal attack, but as a means to improve the organization.

“What organizations often fail to recognize is that when employees join them, they may have fresh insight and a whole lot of new mindset. [That’s] what they’re actually looking for. That’s why they hired them,” Dr. Weiss says. “Then once they speak up with fresh ideas and fresh mindsets it’s not actually the things that others want to hear because it ultimately questions everything that they put in place.”

The next step — actually doing the work of including others’ voices — may take a bit more practice. It involves changing and You language to a more collectivist We. In one study Dr. Weiss conducted, people spoke up 30% more simply by shifting to more group-oriented language.

It may be a small tweak, but in the minds of people who may wonder where they stand in any given meeting or conversation, an explicit act of inclusion can go a long way.

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