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How Small Business Owners Can Raise the Quality of Conversation in Employee Meetings

When was the last time you or your employees looked forward to a meeting? When you own a small business, feedback can be crucial. Feedback or comments from customers are almost guaranteed. But open and honest conversations from employees in meetings can be elusive for small business owners and employees alike. They may have had bad experiences in the past, or they lack trust and fear retaliation. Here are a few tips on how to elevate the quality of conversations without sacrificing your employees' need to feel safe from retaliation when voicing opinions and ideas or speaking up about issues.

What are you trying to accomplish with your meetings as a small business owner?

In a study by the Gallup Organization in 2017, disengaged workers have 60 percent more errors. If your small business has low engagement, you can expect decreased profitability, job growth, and productivity. In another study by the Queen's School of Business, data indicates that small to medium-sized businesses with high engagement rates have a 100 percent increase in unsolicited employment applications. Highly engaged employees help their colleagues reach team goals and look out for one another when giving solutions or bringing attention to issues.

An engaged employee is vested in your small business's success, not just the paycheck. The best way to receive and maintain high levels of engagement is to give them a voice in meetings. For the best outcomes, expect to treat employees as individuals and allow them to express themselves freely without criticism or retaliation.

Here are some quick tips on how to actively engage employees in meetings by asking permission to:

  • Participate in meetings directly and candidly, allowing employees to speak and be heard without ridicule, and those who listen, to listen without judgment.

  • Intervene should discussions go astray, become repetitive or fall behind.

  • Engage those who haven't spoken.

  • Stop someone who is dominating the conversation.

  • Ask questions when you need more clarification.

As a leader, remind employees to ask permission before expressing themselves. For example, during meetings, remind employees that they have permission to invite other employees to speak, ask for more time to talk about a particular subject, and express ideas or concerns without fear. By asking permission, no one can mistake what is about to be said as threatening or intimidating. For instance, encourage using appropriate language like "may I say something about your comment" or "may I ask you something?" Other non-threatening segues before discussions include "may I counter what you just said with this comment?'

How to Listen and Treat Employees and what they have to Say with Respect

When everyone is involved in making a meeting a safe place, ideas evolve,e and solutions to problems are tackled as a team. If you convey that each person's comments will be listened to with respect, you'll reward your small business with motivated employees who know without a doubt that their comments, ideas, and concerns matter. Like any other situation, actions speak louder than words. To convey that your meetings are a safe place for the exchange of ideas and deep conversation, consider the following:

  • Asking follow-up questions

  • Sharing what is valuable about someone's idea or comment

  • Showing your appreciation by thanking each person who contributes to the meeting.

  • I was answering any questions honestly.

After meetings, be sure to:

  • First, recap to the team what you learned at the meetings.

  • Then, have someone take meeting minutes.

  • Discuss the actions you will complete to put their ideas to work. If feasible, suggest that someone lead a team to move forward with an idea or suggestion and have them explain outcomes for the next meeting.

  • State that any discussion held within the meeting will not be shared with others without their permission.

  • Thank everyone for their contributions.

As a small business leader, you're responsible for following up with people to ensure their ideas or comments were addressed and completing any items on the list by the deadline. Of course, having mutually respected and honest conversations with your employees is a process that needs lots of patience. But the reward to your small business means your employees will feel empowered to work together, take responsibility for one another, and, ideally, have a work environment where every employee is proud to participate.

The Lynch Law Firm's Strategist, Helen Petty, works with organizations to increase their efficiency, efficacy, and overall strategy. Let us know how we can work with you.   

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