Take responsibility to help those who are not being heard to be heard.
Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels
The Voice Often Not Heard
Every meeting has them. They are the silent individuals who listen without comment. Often, but not always, they are from a group that is a minority in the organization. That group may be an ethnic, cultural, or genetic minority, or they might be an underrepresented department or team. They may not be from a minority but simply hold a minority opinion.
We hired these people because we believe they benefit our company. So do we make enough space to ensure their voice is heard when they wish to speak; or that they are listened to when they communicate their ideas or concerns?
A Sponsor for the Voiceless
It is the responsibility of those with a voice to sponsor those without. The sponsor steps in and ensures that the voice is heard, respected, and listened to. The sponsor gives room for the underappreciated person’s ideas to be explored and melded into the larger conversation.
Forced Silence is Unacceptable
There are several reasons for someone not to speak. What we are watching for are those reasons that prevent someone from contributing when they would otherwise do so. We need to be careful that someone is not forced into silence. If someone feels unsafe sharing, or believes they will not be heard, then they will withhold information or perspectives that could otherwise be useful.
- microaggression noun
a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)
When someone is shutdown during a meeting then they feel they have no say. It deteriorates trust, satisfaction, and self-worth, which in turn has a huge impact on someone’s ability to contribute to the company. This can be as simple as talking over someone, explaining their idea to them, or even ridiculing what they say offhandedly.
The sponsor’s job here is to call out the microaggression in a way that lets people know that the comment was unappreciated while not belittling the person who performed it. There are 2 goals in this:
- Help the victim of the microaggression be heard
- Help the aggressor to learn what constitutes an aggression as they may be unaware.
The Squeak with a Loud Idea
There are those people who when they do have an idea speak in such a soft voice that it is covered by the drone of everyone else. This will feel the same as a microaggression to the individual who was not heard. It will have all the same negative effects.
Here, the sponsor works as a megaphone. They amplify the individual’s voice and call the groups attention to the fact that someone has participated and was not heard. By doing this the sponsor again makes room for that person’s input.
The Wallflower that Needs to Bloom
Occasionally, there are those who just do not speak at meetings. They have ideas, valuable ideas, but they do not feel comfortable contributing them. They listen, they absorb, and they think. These people need a sponsor to make room for them also. The sponsor’s job here is to call on them every now and again. Particularly when the quiet individuals body language suggests they have input.
This is the hardest role for a sponsor. If they call on the person too often, it can be perceived as a microaggression against an introvert or someone who likes to think deeply before supplying their input. However, if they call on the person to infrequently, the sponsor may be allowing an unsafe environment to grow toxic.
This is where there is no substitution for knowing the people you work with. It is worth checking in with the individual to see if they appreciate your attention. Open transparent communication combined with respect is your best approach.
There are many more possible situations that can lead to someone being quiet. Each of these will require another approach. It is best to watch for these situations and use your best judgement combined with asking people if you handled it correctly.
Building on a Foundation of Respect
It is the responsibility of everyone, especially those who are not afraid to speak to be a sponsor to those whose voices are seldom heard. This responsibility is not an easy one, but it is disastrous when it is not upheld.