Monday, October 10, 2011

How to Hear Voices

Photo by Kristin Andrus

"How can everyone be heard? There's no decision we can make that will satisfy everyone!"

When leaders and managers first become aware of the value of team input into decisions, they can grow frustrated or anxious as they realize that they can't satisfy every opinion in the room. I have even seen exasperated leaders quit asking for their team's input because they don't know what to do with it once they get it.

If you are experiencing this frustration or fear, the first thing to know is that yes, decisions are healthier when everyone affected is heard - but "heard" doesn't always mean the decision satisfies the opinion expressed.

Think about your own experiences with group decision-making. Even if the decision doesn't ultimately go your way, if you know you were genuinely listened to and the values of your position were taken into consideration, it is often easier to move forward.

I like the way facilitation expert Roger Schwarz says it: The goal is an environment where anyone might lose an argument, but they never lose their voice.

Here are 7 ways to be sure you hear the important voices on your team:

1. Clarify up front how the decision will be made - consensus, majority rule, or input then leader decision.

2. Define clear criteria. Get input from everyone at this step so that no hidden criteria sabotage decisions.

3. Create space to hear from everyone. Invite the quieter team members to share their opinions and observations.

4. Ask. Don't assume that every voice will volunteer to be heard. Sometimes you must seek out the voices that need to be heard.

5. Check for understanding. A good goal here is to be able to articulate someone's position even better than they can.

6. Explain. When circumstances allow for it, take time to explain the reasons for a decision.

Bonus #7. Use real life case studies to help teams learn how to evaluate criteria and deal with real world constraints. As much as possible, help team members to experience real world constraints and consequences. This provides valuable experience for them, helps their input be valuable, and can create understanding when decisions don't go their way.

How do you create a culture where everyone has a voice?

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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