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Silence is not agreement; Don’t let others hold their breath

speakup2It’s not often, but I believe we have all experienced the meeting that goes too smoothly.

There’s anywhere from four to eight people, trapped with each other for an hour, around our favorite conference table. So far everything is moving forward, with most of the people participating.

About fifty minutes into the meeting, it looks like everyone is in alignment. Everybody has bought in to a direction.  If we can make it another ten minutes without anyone moving backwards, we will have actually accomplished something real!

Meet Al  

Al is in the corner. He has been quiet the whole time, and we’re holding our breath, because usually he has a lot of opinions. He can railroad a meeting. At this point we have almost made it through the whole thing without him saying a word. Just ten more minutes!

We’re all hoping Al doesn’t pull an “AL” and make us revisit everything. Especially when we are so close to ending the meeting!

Sometimes, Al behaves and we wrap up feeling great about our work. Other times, Al indeed speaks up, too late and our meeting is destined to run long and will most likely require a second meeting to resolve any issues or concerns that Al raised.

You’re Only Hurting Yourself

When we hope Al behaves and stays quiet for just ten more minutes, I think we are hurting ourselves. Regardless of Al speaking up or not, if Al doesn’t agree with the team, he won’t support the team decision. How many times do we say:  “Silence is agreement.  Are there any concerns?”

The truth is that silence is not agreement. It’s just saying that someone is not comfortable sharing their opinion. And what if Al actually has a good point? Maybe even a critical point? Discord can happen in a passive-aggressive or even aggressive-aggressive manner, but eventually, it’s going to affect the outcome.

On the day you’re getting ready to implement the decision, somebody will say, “We’re not doing that. I didn’t buy into it.” You will end up revisiting issues and increasing rework because you encouraged someone to be silent.

A Best Practice to Avoid Harmful Silence

Very early on in the meeting, ask the question, “Is anybody uncomfortable with this decision?”

If somebody seems shut down, if they’re being quiet, or there is a tough topic that isn’t being addressed, bring it up, and bring it up early.

Poke Al. Encourage his Voice.

Depending on the size of the group, you may even want to call everybody out.

If I see Al in the corner being fairly quiet, I might say, “Hey Al, this is usually the type of place where you’re going to voice a different view, and you’re not voicing one right now. So my guess is either you’re distracted or you’re holding something back. Or do you agree we are on the right path? Which one is it?”

Give everybody a voice and make sure people are buying in. Make sure that when you leave the room, you are all aware of who’s bought in and who has not.

In a previous blog post, I talked about alignment. I stated that alignment is not agreement. People can be aligned but not necessarily agree; they can support each other even though they might have different opinions. I explained that the way you get alignment, even when people don’t agree, is by making sure that everybody is heard.

This is just an extension of that. Don’t let Al hold it in.

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Category: Business-IT Alignment, Culture, Team Dynamics, Team Efficiency, Team Performance