How to Help Your Employees Speak Up

Are your employees hesitant to share ideas, take initiative, and talk open and honestly for fear of being labeled or even losing their jobs? Here are ten things you can do to manage your employees’ fear and help them be courageous.

Ask any manager. The workplace is full of “comfeartable” employees—workers who are too comfortable or too fearful to take initiative, trust others, or talk openly and honestly. Worse, when you’re a manager, your own success and satisfaction depend on them. The antidote? Courage. Not the superhuman kind, but everyday courage— accessible to everyone. Ten ways to manage employees’ comfort and fear—and help courage go to work:

Go first.
Be a courageous role model. Jump first—whatever the leap—and workers are more likely to follow your lead.

Provide a view.
Forget the canned corporate vision statement. Provide a “view”—a smaller, more personalized vision—to help employees see their own big picture and how, at an individual level, their courage will be rewarded.

People won’t take a chance without some degree of support.

Set up safety nets.
Most people won’t take a chance without some degree of support. Create safety nets—from protecting jobs to preserving reputations—to reinforce courageous actions.

Give permission.
Many workers think they aren’t “allowed” to do courageous things. Loud and clear, give people permission to go for it.

Value good mistakes.
Making no mistakes is just as dangerous as making too many. Let employees know that you value “good” mistakes—strong effort, weak results—and, odds are, they’ll step out of their comfort zone.

Have their backs.
People want to know that you’ve got their back. Show them you do by going to bat for them—consistently and courageously—with higher-ups.

Normalize fear.
Fear is a normal part of the work experience. Help workers see their doubts and fears as a natural occurrence, and they can refocus their energy to the job at hand.

Modulate comfort.
Adjust employees’ comfort and discomfort with incrementally greater challenges. You’ll steadily stretch their capacity to deal with uncomfortable situations and exert more courage.

Ask the holy question.
Find out what really matters to people by asking the holy question: What do you want? Only then can you give them personally meaningful assignments worth stretching for.

Clarify courage.
You can’t be courageous unless you’re afraid. Remind workers that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but an ability to carry on in its presence.

Copyright 2008 Bill Treasurer. All rights reserved.

Bill Treasurer is author of “Courage Goes to Work” (Berrett-Koehler, October 2008, $26.95).

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