There are millions of self-development books, articles and coaching programs with the aim of helping us learn how to "speak our truth", "live an authentic life" or "stand up for ourselves".
Take for example, social scientist and courage expert Brene Brown's latest book, Braving the Wilderness. The #1 New York Times best-seller sold 42,000 copies in the first week of its release (coming in second place for adult non-fiction after Hillary Clinton's, What Happened).
So why the obsession with speaking up?
In short, we feel awful when we don't. In fact, one of the five biggest regrets of the dying are: "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." More than any office perk or benefit, giving your employees a voice is a sure way to make them feel great—both at work, and in life. Here's where to start.
Assess your employees' capacity for speaking up
Above all else, employees want to be recognized as individuals in the workplace. But the ability (or inability) to speak up is itself an extremely individual trait.
We all know the office extrovert never has a problem getting their point across, but just because a person is the loudest, doesn't mean they're right. Personality, character and upbringing all have a huge impact on a person's willingness to speak up and if you want to be an exceptional leader, you need to hear from everyone.
You may be surprised to uncover creative profit-driving insights sitting idle in the mind of your team's quiet stabilizer, or some very legitimate complaints building up resentment with one of your star performers who was brought up to "work things out yourself."
Step back and take an objective look at your team environment and all the different personalities within it. How can you balance the communication scale?
Address your capacity for listening
Let's face it. Leaders aren't always the best listeners.
After all, you're usually the one doing the talking. But if you truly value what your employees have to say, know that listening is a skill that can be learned and one that will make you a much more effective leader.
Start by taking stock of your current listening behaviors. How do your personal beliefs about listening and speaking up color your view of your employees? Do you tend to get bored, antsy or snappy when someone else is talking? Do you make eye contact or fidget with your computer?
According to Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication, 93% of communication comes in the form of nonverbal cues (38% tone of voice and 55% body language). Resist your distractions and focus on the person in front of you.
Acknowledge the nonverbal hints coming from both sides of the conversation. Are you letting your employee know that you're engaged or losing interest? Do they look excited or disappointed? It's okay to respond to these cues in the moment.
Find a way to meet in the middle
Once you've acknowledged the unique communication styles of your team members and yourself, focus on creating opportunities where everyone can feel comfortable contributing to the discussion.
For example, in group meetings, extroverts will always shine. Even if you already have weekly one-on-ones in place, you may want to schedule additional private meetings with certain team members to ensure they're voicing their opinions and suggestions before and after major team announcements and discussions.
Make it a point to check in with your employees who haven't spoken up in a while. Show them they can trust you by acting on the feedback you receive. Going the extra mile to make your employees feel heard may seem like a headache in the short term, but it's an effort your people will never forget.