Dr. Ardeshir Mehran


So you want a speaking-up culture? Begin by listening more.

We all agree that fostering a “culture of speaking up” is a strategic workforce asset to perpetually transform and grow your business. Right? Keep these facts in mind:

Research shows that speaking up is a reciprocal process. Employees (at all levels) tend to speak up more when there are meaningful practices of wanting to hear from others (including senior leaders).

The reluctance to speak up is NOT a function of a person’s personality, work style, or influencing, communication skills. It is also NOT a function of the organizational level. The concern about speaking up is as prevalent in senior leaders as it is in individual contributors.

How to Promote Speaking Up? Three factors influence the willingness of your staff to speak up:

A sense of psychological safety (concerns about being judged, vs. information exchange, dialogue, and understanding the context):

  • What others will think of me – peers, manager
  • Not be seen as a team player, competent, organizationally smart
  • Being publicly embarrassed (being told they are raising an issue that has already been settled, the issue is unimportant, or it’s the wrong issue or solution)

A sense of relational distance (level, connection, trust):

  • When people do not feel connected to/familiar with each other, or a leader, they are less likely to share
  • The more connected staff feels with you, the less hesitant they are to speak up

Having common forums for exchange (to promote “wanting to hear”):

  • Individuals need an environment conducive to the expression of ideas, varies by role, culture, level
  • Certain conversational formats are more conducive to testing out ideas, identifying similar problems and gaining a sense of support

To make it happen, consider these:

Connect, Reach Out

  • Be accessible, approachable, visible
  • Go, see firsthand

Show your commitment to speak up

  • Offer more and/or different exchange forums
  • Encourage/ask for input
  • Follow up on input
  • Promote speak up examples as well as actions taken

Make it safe and be open; ask more, tell less

  • Be open minded, exploring, non judgmental
  • Actively listen, try to understand
  • Inclusion: value all input, styles, roles
  • Create a safe space, reduce fear of retribution

What do you think?