At a recent Organizational Health Offsite, the team gathered for Day 2 and minutes into the meeting one of the leaders surfaced a concern from the previous day.  “I think the biggest take-away from yesterday was that Ross* feels attacked and unappreciated by some of us.”  The candor was so uncommon that it felt like all of the oxygen had suddenly been sucked from the room.  However, no one questioned the validity of the statement.  It was uncomfortably accurate.

There’s something liberating about speaking out truth.  There’s something refreshing about hearing what most people are thinking but no one feels permission to express.

Why don’t we say what we’re thinking when we’re in the middle of a team meeting?  Because we doubt that people will accept it.  Because we second-guess ourselves, wondering if maybe we’ve misunderstood something. Because we’re tired of being told that we shouldn’t talk that way.  Because we’ve tried before and been shut down.  There are lots of reasons.  But none of them are good ones.

Pent up feelings and thoughts escape eventually; they have to. But they often get vented in settings where solutions are impossible.

Silence in the meeting will never be helpful.  Pent up feelings and thoughts escape eventually; they have to.  But they often get vented in settings where solutions are impossible.  Complaining to your direct reports about what happened in a leadership team meeting only creates animosity toward others on the lead team.  Your direct reports do not have the authority to fix the problem.  But they do have the opportunity to spread it.  The right setting to talk about the concerns is with the team where you have the concerns.  Otherwise, silence in the meeting generates violence in the corridor—negative emotions, undermining accusations, politicking, venting…  

Even in the incident above, Ross was venting at the breakfast table.  Fortunately, he was eating with people from the meeting.  And one of them wisely—and bravely—declared that he was going to bring it up in the meeting. That spawned helpful “conflict” and resolution at the team meeting that morning.  If the breakfast company were different people, none of them would have benefited.

What Can You Do?

Regardless of your role on the team, speak up to make it normal and safe for concerns to be expressed and addressed.  

  • “Earlier I bit my tongue and stopped sharing, but I know that this is the best time and place to express my concerns.  Please let me share…”  
  • “Wait a minute.  It looks like Becky has something to say but we just cut her off.  Let’s make space for this.”  
  • “I’m sorry Mark, I interrupted you.  We all need to hear what you’re thinking.”  

These are simple examples of statements that transform silence into expression and avoid the violence that can reverberate from meetings that are supposed to create cohesion and clarity.

*Note: the names have been changed.

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