How to Hear More From Quiet People

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Let me know if this exchange sounds familiar: 

Team Leader:
“Great meeting everyone, does anyone have anything else to say before we wrap up?”

Quiet People:
“...” 

Team Leader:
“Ok great! Let’s get back to work and knock this out of the park!”

Most team leaders feel they’ve done their part when they ask if “anyone has anything else to say?” They opened up the floor and no one said anything, so they’re off the hook.

Meanwhile, great team leaders get the most out of their teams (even the quiet people) by creating opportunities for everyone to contribute in their own way.

Here are a few conversational strategies to hear more from quiet people on your team.

Ask Them Directly 

Recall your school days for a minute: if you choose to answer the teacher’s question, you can either be right, or you can be wrong. If you’re right, you gain attention from the teacher and have to answer more questions. If you answer wrong, you gain attention from the class because you got the answer wrong. People who talk often are usually more comfortable with attention, and are willing to risk negative attention to gain positive attention. Quiet people, on the other hand, usually choose the third option, which is to say nothing in these risky situations. 

Quiet people aren’t quiet because they have no good ideas, they’re quiet because they are avoiding socially risky situations. A great way for a team leader to hear more from quiet people is to ask them directly what they think and give them space to say it. 

Create Longer Processing Opportunities 

Quiet people are often quiet because they feel they haven’t had enough time to process the question or the situation to add anything of value. People who talk often process their thoughts as they come out of their mouths. I’m a lot like this. I have to throw an idea into the world and see how people react to understand its validity. Usually people who talk often are perceived as having strong relational skills, and so they become team leaders. Their downfall, however, is they assume everyone operates how they do. 

A great way for a team leader to hear more from quiet people is to let them know you want their input in advance. Even 15 minutes or an hour or so is usually enough time for quiet people to gather some thoughts.

Be Silent After Their First Point 

Talkers often perceive brief pauses in conversation as an indication that the conversational baton is being passed. So they jump in and pick up the conversation. Quiet people, however, are usually slower processors. So they’ll contribute their initial idea, and then pause to think of their next point. This is where talkers jump in . 

A great way to hear more from quiet people on your team is to wait through the pauses. Maintain an understanding eye contact with them and don’t say a word. After three or four seconds, the quiet person will contribute something else, and something else. 

Affirm Their Contributions 

Again, quiet people are usually analyzing the risk level of a social situation. If a talker grabs the conversational baton too early, you can affirm a quiet person by saying something like, “wait, I want to hear more about what [quiet person] was saying earlier.” 

Additionally, after the meeting has finished, you can affirm a quiet person by letting them know if you liked their idea, and thanking them for sharing.

A great team leader recognizes that culture is the strongest force inside a team, and doubles down to create a culture in which everyone can contribute in their own way. 

Joshua Reese