Getting diverse and honest feedback from your team: The Power of Speaking Last

Getting diverse and honest feedback from your team: The Power of Speaking Last

A theme that I seem to be discussing more often recently is the need for leaders to speak last.  Like most things I write about, I’m sensitive to this topic, not because I’ve always done it the right way, but because I’ve often done it the wrong way – speaking first and smothering the great ideas the team I had the privilege of leading might have come up with.

Recognizing the Influence our words as leaders have

As leaders, whether in the workplace or at home, our words carry weight. Even when we intend to offer mere opinions, they often morph, or are translated into directives, subtly guiding those under our influence. This tendency can inadvertently stifle the diverse perspectives crucial for effective decision-making within a team.

Creating Space for Dialogue

Consider a scenario where a team is tasked with making a critical decision. Instead of immediately sharing our opinions, we should first create space for others to express their thoughts freely. By withholding our input until everyone has had a chance to contribute, we demonstrate respect for diverse viewpoints and encourage open dialogue.

Avoiding Premature Influence

Speaking last allows us to avoid unintentionally influencing the team’s direction prematurely. When we speak early in the discussion, our words may carry undue weight, subtly nudging others to align with our perspective. However, by reserving our input until the end, we ensure that each team member has the opportunity to voice their ideas without the influence of our authority.

Demonstrating Humility and Empathy

Moreover, speaking last demonstrates humility and a willingness to listen—something that we all know is crucial for effective leadership. It sends a powerful message that we value the collective wisdom of the team above our own opinions. This approach fosters a culture of trust and collaboration, where team members feel empowered to share their insights without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Implementing the Strategy Effectively

Admittedly, speaking last requires discipline and self-awareness. It can be tempting to interject with our thoughts and opinions, especially when we feel strongly about a particular issue. Add this onto the fact that many of us have become accustomed to the habit of speaking first, and we have quite a change to make. However, by practicing restraint and actively listening to others, we create space for innovation and creativity to flourish.

A way to help with this strategy is to be open about it with the team you lead. Let them know you’re going to try and speak last more and ask for their help – even giving them permission to hold you accountable to this new promise you’ve made.

Considering Exceptions

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. In certain situations where decisive action is required, it may be necessary for leaders to assert their opinions early in the discussion. However, these instances should be the exception rather than the norm.

Harnessing diverse perspectives

In conclusion, the practice of speaking last is a simple yet powerful tool for gaining diverse perspectives and fostering collaboration within a team. By allowing others to express their thoughts before offering our own, we create an environment where these diverse perspectives can thrive. This approach not only strengthens team dynamics but also enhances the quality of decision-making. So, the next time you find yourself chairing a meeting or leading a discussion, remember the importance of speaking last—it may just be the key to unlocking your team’s full potential.

Exercise to try

As you’re grasping with this concept, be an observer of other leaders over the next little while. Watch who offers advice and thoughts first, and reflect upon how that impacted the conversation.

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