How can you create a workplace culture that values effort, promotes diversity, and prioritizes psychological safety while avoiding situations where the loudest voices dominate the conversation and stifle innovation?
In this article, we'll show you how to save your company from the loudest people in the room and build a more inclusive and collaborative workplace that supports your company's success.
How to manage dominant personalities in the workplace
Risks of loud voices dominating conversation
Imagine this situation. A team meeting is taking place to decide on targets for the new quarter. An opinionated member of the team called Taylor insists on Target A and takes over the conversation by talking about why Target A is the way to go for the first fifteen minutes.
The rest of the team sits in silence. Sam, being less opinionated than Taylor, discards his opinions to agree with Target A. Blair disagrees, she actually believes that Target B would be more sustainable than Target A. But after listening to Sam and some other team members vocally agree with Taylor, she keeps quiet and nods in agreement.
Taylor goes uncontested, and Target A is chosen. Taylor is delighted; the Sams and Blairs of the team not so much.
How loud people affect the workplace
The Taylors of the world usually don’t mean to hijack the conversation. They believe in their opinion and are very comfortable being vocal about them. Yet, people who are louder and more vocal in the workplace can affect important decisions made in the workplace and conversations that take place.
In the example above, Sam and Blair are led by their instinct to conform and fear of backlash to withhold their own opinions. This could lead to many missed opportunities. Though Blair thinks Target B is a better idea, that suggestion is never brought to light.
This is an occurrence of groupthink, which is defined by Psychology Today as “when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions that are spurred by the urge to conform or the discouragement of dissent.” It can happen in any social situation but can be detrimental in the workplace when it suppresses open discourse and innovation and decreases employee engagement.
As shared in a Medium post by Dr. Christine Bradstreet:
I don’t care if you’re the quietest person in the room, speak up when the meeting/group/team is going off the rails to comply with the loud person simply because they’re loud.
More than their just volume, it’s likely the certainty and aggressive manner they can have that mesmerizes the rest of the group. It doesn’t take long for the rest of the room to go quiet while the loudest person starts calling the shots.
The problem with the loudest people in the room doesn’t necessarily lie with the people themselves. It lies with the assumption that loudness is correlated to expertise and credibility.
As a manager, it can be a struggle to sidetrack the negative effects of a dominant employee.
1. Differentiate enthusiasm from bullying behavior
If you face a situation like this, first figure out why the employee dominates the meeting:
- If their loudness comes from enthusiasm, then it helps to encourage that enthusiasm while setting boundaries with other team members.
- If the loudness is intimidating and aggressive, then consider how it affects your other team members. Employees who are loud and intrusive in the workplace can be intimidating and often have a demoralizing effect on other employees. In some instances, this effect could be a deliberate attempt to put down fellow team members and climb the corporate ladder.
If you’re the CEO of a company, it’s imperative that you go audit every single employee in your company, and figure out which ones make the other employees miserable.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your number one salesperson, your best developer, or even your co-founder. Cancer spreads.
2. Create a culture that rewards effort, not noise
To avoid noise from taking over, look at how your company rewards your team. According to Harvard Business Review, company culture is what guides decision-making when the CEO leaves the room. Building a culture that rewards effort rather than noise, therefore, builds a company that makes decisions based on results rather than empty words.
The reward doesn’t necessarily mean monetarily, but also socially. Are the loudest people in the room the ones who get the most compliments? Are they the ones who are the most visible to managers? If so, then it might be time to change things up.
Tip #1: Crowd-source suggestions through a poll before the meeting.
Before a meeting, crowd-sourced suggestions through a live polling system first. Taking the suggestions collection onto a different medium could help take the force of a charismatic personality out of the decision-making process.
For example, an HR team is preparing to discuss new employee wellness initiatives. To ensure equal input from all team members, the HR manager creates an anonymous pre-meeting poll for submitting ideas. This process minimizes the influence of dominant personalities on idea generation.
After that, allow employees to vote for their favorite suggestion. This not only helps to get a true reflection of the suggestions people like the best but also gives the employee with the best suggestions a new form of social recognition in the workplace.
3. Make room for truth in the workplace, even if it is painful
Sometimes, it can be hard to listen to feedback. When you’re deeply rooted in the status quo, listening to feedback or suggestions that break out of that status quo can be scary.
This fear has driven managers to favor less impactful suggestions and ignore valuable ideas. While easy safe and secure, it is also a sure way for empty vessels to take over the workplace and drive quality employees out.
Or, even worse, it could fill your team with ‘Yes’ people, employees who are not likely to challenge you if you are wrong. According to Gallup, surrounding yourself with ‘Yes’ people could open yourself to confirmation bias, and “the solution lies in a decision to create an environment where people can speak truth to power.”
Tip #2: Give yourself a buffer response time to all ideas.
If you find yourself getting frustrated, scared, or rejecting an idea almost immediately in your mind, take a day to reflect on the idea first and take the time to reflect on why.
The extra time will help you different ideas with real potential from ideas that are actually unsuitable and react accordingly. Be upfront with your concerns, and allow your team to step up and change your mind.
For instance, a project manager receives an unconventional cost-saving suggestion from a team member during a budget review meeting. Initially, the manager is hesitant and feels inclined to dismiss the idea.
Instead of reacting immediately, the manager takes a day to reflect on the proposal and its potential merits. This buffer period allows for a more objective assessment of the idea's feasibility.
4. Prioritise psychological safety in the workplace
Harvard Business Review describes psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. In workplace discussions, this relates directly to the belief that you may be punished if you say something wrong.
While it is important to draw lines on inappropriate and offensive language, employees should not feel any fear of losing their jobs if they raise suggestions or opinions.
Make it an HR priority to ensure all employees feel secure enough in their roles to speak their minds. When your employees feel safe in their roles, they will be more comfortable disagreeing with even the loudest person in the room.
Tip #3: Use technology to even the playing field in the workplace
In group settings where a louder person could easily take control of the room, make use of a tool like Pigeonhole Live to gather insights from quieter teammates. Allowing anonymous responses lessens the potential backlash on employees.
Question voting also helps surface the real group sentiment, instead of the loudest group sentiment. This gives even the quietest of team members a chance to be heard.
For example, during a monthly team meeting, a department manager notices that some quieter employees often have their ideas overshadowed by more vocal colleagues. To ensure equal participation, the manager implements Pigeonhole Live as a communication tool.
In the next meeting, team members can anonymously submit their thoughts and ideas. Additionally, they can vote on others' submissions. This process helps gather valuable insights from all employees, regardless of their communication style, giving each team member an equal opportunity to contribute and be heard.
5. Make room for diversity in the workplace
A comprehensive study of more than 230 senior board members and high-ranking executives believes the most important way to alleviate groupthink is to introduce diversity of thought.
But making room for diversity doesn’t stop at hiring diverse teams.
Diversity truly becomes part of your company culture when you account for it in your decision-making process. Even when a popular consensus arises from a discussion, consider the perspectives of people from different demographics, ideologies, and worldviews. This forces the team to actively explore options other than the loud person’s opinion.
Tip #4: Appoint a random devil’s advocate at each meeting
To ensure that diverse opinions are taken into account, select a meeting attendee at random who will serve as the devil’s advocate for the meeting. That person’s job during the meeting will be to counter all popular ideas and encourage debate around it.
Having a dedicated devil’s advocate helps create a friendly environment to test the strength of popular ideas while framing important questions that need to be asked in the innovation process.
For example, a software development team holds weekly meetings to discuss updates and share ideas for product improvements. To foster diverse perspectives, the team leader appoints a different member as the devil's advocate for each meeting.
During a discussion about a new feature, the devil's advocate raises potential issues and encourages debate, challenging the team to think critically about the idea. This practice creates a supportive atmosphere for testing the viability of proposals and helps identify crucial questions that arise during the innovation process.
Manage dominant traits for effective teamwork
Handling strong personalities at work is vital for fostering a unified and efficient team. Dominant voices can negatively affect team spirit and productivity. To establish a supportive and inclusive atmosphere, focus on effective communication, active listening, and resolving conflicts. By addressing your team's needs, you can encourage engagement, cooperation, and improved results for your organization.