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  • Lauren Schlezinger

Let Every Voice Be Heard

I once heard a black leader say that diversity is a euphemism for racism. I say in the workplace: extroversion is a euphemism for power. Now, more than ever, we cannot be afraid to challenge typical power players and their constructs. Bring meeting norms and structures to your group. Help everyone be heard.

I have always believed, lived, and helped others lead in a way that promotes belonging. Every person in a community, team or group should feel like they matter. Every person deserves to be seen and heard fully. In recent weeks, this belief has become more emotional for me; it has taken root in my heart. I've been asking myself: How can I move from believing to acting? What can I do that will actually make a difference?

With that in mind, I want to empower leaders with simple ideas that you can implement every day. You can bring people together. You can make them feel valued. You can allow ALL the voices at the table (or in Zoom boxes) be heard.

Too often we draw conclusions about a person before they ever speak. In my line of work, we refer to this as the Ladder of Inference and it is all too easy to fall from it. In order to avoid this calamity, here are some simple things you can do every time your group comes together:

  • Create a safe space. People are much more open and willing to share their voices when they do not feel threatened. This can apply to a myriad of situations, including someone who is newer to the team sharing an idea in opposition with the boss. To create a safe space, you need meeting agreements, which are the rules of engagement that participants set to generate collaboration and productivity. They are part of the overall scaffolding that lets people focus on the important stuff – ideas, creative thinking, and critical thinking – because they aren't distracted by feelings of worry, annoyance, or fear.

  • Use structures that level the playing field. Often meeting structures like Q&A or open discussions appeal to people who enjoy speaking up and may be in more of a power position than others in the room. Instead, use structures that anonymously and simultaneously promote idea generation. In plain terms, break out the sticky notes! Everyone brainstorms by writing ideas on individual post-its. Then you go through a process of classifying and prioritizing. You get to a better result because a diverse set of perspectives are in the mix.

  • Write then talk. Even when you want to have a discussion, writing first promotes inclusivity in meetings. It works like this: Ask individuals to write down questions and ideas before opening discussion up to the group. There are several benefits of this strategy: 1/ It is inclusive of everyone. 2/ It saves time because people fine tune their ideas before they start to speak. 3/ It allows people to focus on what others have to share rather than worry about what they’re going to say when it is their turn.

  • Small groups yield big results. Breaking people into smaller groups creates a systematic way for a large group to identify where there is consensus and disagreement. It works well because it allows those who are not assertive in large groups a chance to contribute. When you create the small groups, be thoughtful about who works together to ensure a comfortable experience for everyone.

I urge us all to be thoughtful as we lead teams and work with another. Be respectful. Be inclusive. Listen. And, remember that we all matter.

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