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8. The Death of DEI
  • Writer's pictureAntonio Da Veiga Rocha

Inviting The Silent

We have all been there; in a meeting where a few speak and most are silent. It is likely you've occupied one or maybe both of those spaces. Maybe at different times in your life. Maybe as your role grew in your job you saw yourself shifting from one side to the other or maybe you have remained where you were – either silently taking in and cautious to speak, or the outspoken, giving opinion whenever asked. I think a lot about meeting groups and often ask the question: why aren’t the silent ones speaking?

Over the years I have learned that there are many reasons, maybe too many to mention here, but the question is still an important one for this line of work? When only a few in a meeting speak as a constant act, the narrative takes on a specific identity, and this identity overwhelmingly leads to a result, that of comfort. Meeting organizers need to be aware of this or they will find themselves perpetuating the notion that meetings are only for a few - those that share kinship in such comforts.

In my previous post I spoke about ReWilding the Idea Table, and how presenting insecurities in the meeting setting, and opening up the space for progressive company thinking, is paramount if we want to be sustainable institutions. This cannot be done when comfort is continuously present. We should ask ourselves: Would I not get the same information if I were to only pull the talkative few to a meeting? Why then invite all of these other folks?

Maybe we should first ask what's the purpose of the meeting, and does it need all of participants? If it does then we should ask these following two questions: How will I get the silent others to participate? How will I create the space they feel welcomed to share in? There are strategies that can enable such talkative/contributive spaces, but we must first take the time to prepare them.

A Couple of Strategies

Speaking is a way to communicate, but it is not the only one. Silence is also a way sharing one’s views. One of the first steps in hearing from the silent is understanding that communication is always happening in every meeting - from those that are speaking and from those that aren’t - and that what we want is to change the means of communication to a method that is more clearly understood by most, speaking.

One strategy starts with a question: Why the quietness? Is it discomfort, ignorance, lack of speaking structure, shyness, confusion, tiredness, disinterest? There can be many reasons. As such taking the pulse of the room before entering the main focus of the meeting is a good strategy. Asking everyone to write one word as to how they feel about the meeting that is about to be held, already gives you information on what you’re about to face. Do this anonymously. Individuals can write this down on a piece of paper, and one volunteer can read out the feelings. This allows everyone to know the general pulse of the meeting's participants and gives all the attendees some information about the group’s state. Coordinating these answers and consciously managing the room by way of the responses, places you in a more results-oriented pathway.

A second strategy is asking pre-meeting questions and structuring the layout of the meeting by the answers you receive. This is a strategy I often use to great effect when working with youth. I first think of where their comfort spaces are, their vulnerable spaces, and ask them to do some work in those spaces prior to a meeting. In today’s Survey Monkey world such tasks can be done quite easily, anonymously, and with immediacy. Keeping questions simple and fun, can often yield better results, along with creating a good track record for such processes should you continue to use them.

These are just two strategies that can help meeting coordinators achieve higher levels of information gathering. Remember that keeping the initial concern centered: Getting the Silent Ones to Speak (the diversification of my information getting processes), will open your mind to many more possible solutions. Still, should you find a coach's hand can be of assistance in such endeavors, KSCC can assist you.

Looking Ahead

In future posts we will speak more about the structures that motivate and inform someone’s silence. Structures that are conscious and subconscious, that hold biases, historical insecurities, institutional signals of access for some and group egress for others; practices we often exercise without fully being conscious of our roles in them. There are many such identifiers in our workplaces. They can communicate specific moods, wants, demands, etc. Most often the silent are not just practicing silence as an act of laziness and carelessness, but responding to work-space signals, codes that are telling them to remain silent or risk unwanted consequences. A general D&I Social Workspace Survey can assist in identifying such markers and provide a plan to reduce them, if not remove them from your institution all together!


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