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Photo of man in yellow shirt with red tape over his mouth to illustrate what to do when employees don't speak up.

When employees won’t speak up, it can cause conflict and confusion about a variety of workplace issues.

Managing employees means dealing with a lot of different personalities each day. Some might be very extroverted and outspoken while others will be quiet and introverted. This can be frustrating if you’re eager for feedback and opinions from your whole team. A good manager can meet all employees where they are, improve on weaknesses, build on strengths and make everyone feel valued and respected.

Here’s what to do when employees won’t speak up.

Respect it

First, don’t take their silence personally. Simply acknowledge that everyone’s different and people have different styles and personalities. Just because you have an employee who’s quiet and doesn’t seek you out very often doesn’t mean they don’t like their job, are unhappy or disengaged. In fact, their silence might simply be a sign they’re really focused on their work and don’t have time for small talk and banter.

Engage them

Meet them where they are. If they’re hesitant to pop into your office and offer unsolicited feedback, seek them out. Don’t be invasive — remember that some people just take time to warm up to new people. Engage them in small talk, get to know them and share some personal details about yourself. Eventually, they’ll learn to trust you, share some of their own personal details, and if you play your cards right, provide you with the feedback and viewpoints you wanted.

Give them space

Sometimes your attempt to get to know them won’t be well received and they’ll still be standoffish. Some people really like to think and plan before they speak and act, meaning that an impromptu conversation about something work-related might not happen. If that’s the case, let them know your door is always open and you’re happy to chat and hear feedback.

Give them space and autonomy while assuring them that you support them. And if they seem to thrive in a more solitary environment or a collaborative culture doesn’t seem to work well for them, make accommodations to meet those needs. That might mean allowing them to work from home occasionally or situating their workspace in a more secluded spot.

Don’t stress them out

If your shy worker seems anxious by too many communications or interactions that are too direct, don’t force it. Allow them to use text or email to communicate if that seems to make them feel more comfortable, don’t put them on the spot during large meetings, or do anything else that will stress them out.

As long as they’re getting their work done and being productive, you don’t need to change them. Once they get more comfortable, you might work with them to push past their boundaries and facilitate professional growth, especially if they want to advance their careers. Eventually, they’ll be ready to speak up, offer opinions, and maybe even present during meetings.

For more tips on managing different personalities, meeting individuals where they are and encouraging professional growth, check out our blog.

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