In this context, it’s when we make a decision not to put forward our idea, question, opinion, objection or point of view. In same-room meetings, it was easy to see when someone’s body language changed, or when someone began to look confused, thoughtful or hesitant. Good meeting-chairs, and good colleagues, would pick up on this and invite the contribution. In video calls it is much more difficult to pick on these cues, so many contributions are being missed.
BAs need to be aware of self-censoring from two perspectives 1) our stakeholders may not provide the information or insight we need from them 2) we may be stopping ourselves form contributing due to a variety of underlying causes.
Here are some of the reasons people hold back.Here are some of the reasons people hold back.
Don’t rock the boat
Many of us prefer to maintain the outward illusion of a harmonious team than face some of the more difficult questions. Unfortunately the disharmony will spill out in other ways, impacting relationships and productivity. To further extend this metaphor – checking that everyone knows where we are headed and is rowing in the same direction is not the same as ‘rocking the boat’!
Confidence of convictions
If someone makes a very confident statement we believe to be wrong or disagree with, it’s difficult to voice another idea if we feel uncertain. Some people sound very confident all of the time, and leave no room for alternative interpretation or doubt. This can leave others feeling “there’s no point arguing with them”. This is not a positive outcome for organisations. Research shows that when people are “100% certain” of something, they are only right about 85% of the time.
Level of investment
When we don’t really care about the topic or issue, its more likely we will hold back. Sometimes a topic feels off track, unnecessarily detailed or covering old ground. Particularly in long meetings, or towards the end of meetings, people have mentally moved on and we are unlikely to making the best quality contribution.
If we find ourselves consistently uninterested in the outcome of discussion, perhaps it’s time to look for a new room and a new discussion.
Discomfort and fear
Many of us avoid conflict, because it feels uncomfortable. We worry that relationships may deteriorate or be affected. We need to invest in relationships to create the trust required to constructively disagree, the security to express dissenting views. We also fear endless debate, and may feel unwilling to prolong the discussion further! People also worry about looking foolish or deliberately uncooperative. Fear is a major factor in self-censorship.
Assuming everyone else agrees
When everyone else stays silent, it is easy to assume they all agree. When we believe we are the only one ‘out on a limb’/ ‘willing to stick their head above the parapet’ (whichever analogy is more prevalent in your organisation) we are less will in to speak our minds.
The most innovative and productive teams have competing ideas and multiple perspectives.
How can we avoid it?
Online meetings need different facilitation skills to face-to-face meetings. Getting the best contribution from every participant, keeping everyone engaged and not simply seeking quick-agreement are essential. The ability to exchange questioning glances or clarify positions on the way into a meeting have been reduced – we must make it easier for people to speak when they have a different point of view.
Inviting a minority opinion with phrases such as “Is there another way of looking at this?”, “What could we be missing here?” and “Let’s hear from some who is not totally convinced” make it much more acceptable to voice dissent than questions which don’t really invite further contribution such as “So, are we all in agreement?”.
- Not all contribution needs to be verbal – encourage or make different types of contribution though chat function and collaboration tools.
- Not all contribution needs to be ‘in the room’ – provide or take opportunities to contribute before or after sessions.
It is useful to reflect on our contribution with questions such as:
- “Am I happy with my level of contribution in that session?”
- “Did I encourage others to speak?”
- “Is there something I stopped myself from saying? Was it important?”
- “How can I progress that contribution outside the meeting?”
Create a culture of reflection by posing some of these questions at the end of a session.
As business analysts, we need to understand this issue, as it has the potential to significantly affect our work. Being alert to self-censorship means we can encourage participation and ensure we don’t miss out on an important contribution from others, and we can question our own motivations when we choose to stay silent.