Joe goes to work at the software development firm every day. Rather than stopping by the coffee area to chat, he goes directly to his desk and starts to work. When it’s team update time, Joe rarely participates and asks even fewer questions. His work is always high-quality and on time, but his manager may question if he really knows what’s going on and is committed to the team’s work.
Every organization recognizes and rewards employees who contribute to a team or department’s goals. However, strong performers are often equated with those who speak the most eloquently and expressively about their work and who effectively showcase their accomplishments. Yet, there are many “behind the scenes” contributors, like Joe, who may be overlooked because they keep their ideas, comments and achievements to themselves.
To engage, retain and get the best ideas from these productive employees, organizations can consider utilizing a broader set of management strategies to bring out the best in all employees.
This situation becomes ever-more important as the workforce grows in ethnic diversity, especially in high-content knowledge industries such as technology, pharmaceuticals and finance/accounting where the number of employees of Asian background continues to grow. Many of these highly talented individuals prefer not to showcase their work publicly or engage in open disagreement, based on their cultural upbringing and traditions.
For instance, speaking up in meetings is a big challenge for both the quiet employee and his or her manager alike. However, if both parties move out of their respective comfort zones, it’s likely that satisfaction will improve.
Here are practical tips for diversity leaders to offer both parties — the manager as well as the employee:
• Invite the quieter team members to provide their perspectives. Managers can warm up these individuals by telling them their input is valued, and it would be good for them to speak up at meetings. Cueing an individual during a meeting could also work: “Joe, would you like to share your ideas about this topic?”
• Encourage conflict-avoiding team members to raise their concerns. Many cultures avoid open disagreement as it may cause another person to feel shamed or lose face. Managers should let team members know that disagreements can help move the discussion forward and are a form of problem solving. They can teach such employees to disagree gracefully by providing starting phrases such as, “I’d like to offer another perspective,” or “While I agree with Karen that … I also believe that …” Support them publicly when they take the risk to disagree.
• Managers should allow individuals to bring up their concerns one-on-one with them first, then decide if it needs to be discussed publicly. Introverts and conflict-avoiders prefer a safe and non-rushed environment in which they can think and then voice their perspective. As their experience in doing this grows, managers can encourage them to do the same in the larger group.
Introverted/Culturally Quieter Employee:
• Before every meeting, they can bullet point key topics they think will be discussed and notate their responses. Preparation will allow them to not feel pressured to think on their feet at a meeting.
• They can also take notes during the meeting on their responses and thoughts to topics that were discussed. Introverts are often skilled at summarizing and integrating. As they take notes, they will likely develop ideas they can then share with the team.
• Employees can share their ideas with their managers before the meeting and ask for their feedback so they can improve. If helpful, they can also request that managers give them cues to speak during the meeting.
Beyond the manager or team leader, the entire team can help to make sure the quieter team members are included in the discussion. Engaging all perspectives assures a more thorough and thought-out process that will likely yield better results.
Judy Shen-Filerman is principal and founder of Dreambridge Partners, a communications and leadership development firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.