If you've ever led a meeting, this has probably happened to you: you're wrapping up and you ask your team if they have any questions or anything to add. You wait while your team is silent. After a minute, you might be tempted to think that you've done such an amazing job covering everything that everyone understood perfectly and is on the same page. In reality, however, that's almost never the case.
This is a problem because most of the time your team won't say anything, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to say. Instead, your colleagues may be making one of these four assumptions, and it's your job to address them head-on if you're ever going to get honest feedback.
They think you have already decided.
This is the simplest reason people don't say anything in your meetings. Often, your team simply figures that you've already made a decision and you're simply telling them what's happening--with or without their input. In that case, what would be the point of speaking up? Instead, your job is to communicate that you value everyone's input and that you actually expect it.
They don't care.
This is unfortunate, but sometimes it's the case. Often it's because there's some kind of disconnect between your team member, their role, and the agenda of the meeting. When people don't see how something connects to their job, it's hard for them to process it in a meaningful way. When that happens, they check out. The last thing they're going to do is speak up or ask questions, because, honestly, they just want the meeting to be over so they can move on to something more important (in their view).
By the way, when this happens, it's not usually their fault. Sure, sometimes it's because someone hasn't bought into the mission of your business or organization--and when that's the case you have a bigger problem. Often, however, they simply don't see why it's relevant to them or their job, so they just don't care. It's your job, as a leader, to make them care by articulating the vision and how it affects them personally.
They Don't Understand
You would think that if your team is confused or didn't understand something, they'd speak up. Except, they don't.
No one wants to speak up when they don't understand because they assume everyone else did and they don't want to look dumb. Especially when the boss is talking. Here's the thing: If one person doesn't understand, you haven't done your job as an effective leader. If you don't know that, you can't do a better job.
Your job is to create a safe space where it's okay to not understand and to ask questions. It's important that your team understands that there's no judgment for not understanding. In fact, the more you can move people to recognize that it's not actually their fault they don't understand something, the better. When that happens, your team is far more likely to challenge faulty assumptions and help make the final decision better.
They think they're the only ones who feel this way.
Finally, the undercurrent that runs through many meetings is that "I'm the only one who feels this way." Even when people feel like something is really wrong, or that there's some big problem that the leader needs to know about, when someone thinks they're the only one who must feel that way, there's little chance they're going to say something.
They tell themselves that someone else would say something if they also felt this way, but since no one is speaking up, it must just be their feeling alone. Of course, the problem is that many times, you might have half of your team feeling this way, but no one speaks up.
I tend to think that if I'm feeling something, surely someone else does too, and I speak up. So, when I'm leading a meeting, I'll simply say, "Look, I really value your feedback because it's important to the success of our team. Now, there's a good chance that a bunch of you have some thoughts about what we've discussed, but you're hesitant to share because you think you might be the only one. I promise you aren't, but even if you were, I'd still value your input and would like to hear what you have to say."
Said the right way, that ought to get a response.