Organizations are filled with people who are afraid to speak up when asked their opinion. Despite all the town hall meetings, open forums, assurances of anonymity, and suggestion boxes, some individuals can still feel stifled and do not offer their thoughts on subjects related to the workplace. This could be because of a lack of consistency in handling suggestions, centralization, or the actual loss of a job. For instance, if an organization is structured so that a good bit of power is controlled by one individual, then that individual can manipulate the direction a company takes, thereby eliminating any information or suggestions from below.
In many cases, whether intentional or unintentional, companies make requests for suggestions only as an exercise, then go on to disregard them. Suggestions are provided, but employees never see any of them come to fruition. Soon, employees realize what’s going on. They don’t see the fruit of the labor and figure it’s not worth their time to continue to provide suggestions.
Unfortunately, the fear created will take a long time to eliminate. Employees need to see differences in the handling of daily operations to prove to them that they have no need to fear. In the meantime, what do we as training providers do to train individuals who are afraid to provide input? Most organizations focus on increasing motivation and interpersonal skills, but those do not help overcome the root affective behavior that warrants a lack of motivation and how people interact.
Fear is a passive behavior that results in inefficient results and actions that are reactive rather than proactive. All individuals should have the freedom to be who they are in the workplace for the betterment of the organization. The inability to provide constructive opinions will result in a definite lack of innovation. Let’s train employees not to be fearful by doing the following:
Increase their self-efficacy. Many employees lack the ability to speak up because they are not confident about what they are speaking about or simply lack the skill set to feel confident around others who have broader abilities. While the individual must have some degree of motivation to be more confident than they are, the organization should provide opportunities for increasing self-confidence.
Increase their involvement. A major reason so many people retreat backward in their interpersonal involvement is because they have no place to be involved. When an individual lacks skills and confidence, management many times look upon them as a noncontributor. Managers should recognize individuals and find those hidden jewels within people to find ways for them to can make a difference.
Develop their communication skills. Sometimes suggestions are provided in less than professional ways and therefore they become abruptly disregarded because of the tone. Training people on how to provide constructive criticism can translate into more professional behavior in the delivery of suggestions in the workplace.
Develop their problem-solving abilities. When individuals have the ability to think critically and analytically, they are more likely to carefully construct their interactions with others. Consequently, they are more able to carve out appropriate methods to get their suggestions heard.
Show them how to challenge the process. A key to leadership is being able to challenge the process. Challenging the process should, first of all, not be considered a negative process to management. Secondly, training an employee on how to examine situations and look beyond the current process for organizational impact is instrumental in providing them the ability to speak up. More expert power means greater analysis, ultimately resulting in changes in process.
Provide realistic role playing. Many times role playing becomes a fake process that we think is a training technique but results in no behavior changes. To train individuals not to be fearful, realistic role playing must occur. Some real affective behavior must represent the actual workplace whether organizations want to face it or not.
Provide freedom to be something for the organization. Give each individual a place and some direction of a place where they can have ownership. Make sure it’s something that contributes to the organization going forward.
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