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Have you been in a meeting with your boss today? If you have, here’s the important question: have you told the boss what he (it’s usually a he) or she wants to hear? There’s a very strong likelihood that half of you will have done exactly that by choosing not to give an honest opinion in a company meeting.
A recent survey by Lumi found that 28% of employees were deterred from giving an honest opinion because of their boss and another 23% were concerned they might create a negative impression if they didn’t toe the company line. In larger meetings, 48% were worried that voicing a personal opinion could be held against them or they would look foolish.
In an age where, as Lumi UK managing director Peter Eyre points out, there is a focus on “improving internal communications and employee engagement”, it’s striking that a large proportion of employees have little or no faith that the process allows them to speak up and contribute ideas or insights that might challenge their bosses or run counter to the company line.
The resulting imbalance ensures that for all their enthusiasm for meetings with team members, managers and companies are only really happy because those meetings tell them what they want to hear. Indeed, their enthusiasm for such meetings might be because they nearly always validate their strategies, unaware that this is usually because employees have felt constrained from expressing their true views on them.
No wonder that the same voices tend to dominate the discussion and they frequently put forward views that chime neatly with the company line. But as Eyre notes, if only a small number of people dominate the discussion “the group intelligence will suffer”. No surprise then, that companies end up launching products like Windows Vista, the Zune, the Apple Pippin, the Newton and the Blackberry Playbook, amongst many others.
The survey also found that women were less likely to speak up at meetings than men for fear of looking foolish but the frequent predominance of male voices can also be a hindrance to innovation, with Eyre citing research which shows teams with more women outperform teams with more men. That research found teams which performed best were those with members “who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills”. In general. women had much better skills when it came to reading emotions.
So, according to the survey findings, barely half of all meetings are of any real value to the organisation, aside from massaging the egos of managers and providing confirmation bias to the company that employs them. This is not a good thing.
There’s a real danger that company meetings can become an echo chamber for yes men (and women) but that’s not exactly new. However, it might be worth managers paying more attention to the number of staff who don’t speak up at meetings and asking whether their silence really is golden.