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The Quiet Ones Have Opinions Too

How many of you have encountered a scenario like the one below?

Fred was ready and anticipating the planning meeting for the annual employee promotion dinner. Last year’s event was dull and he really wanted to shake things up this year; he had a plan and knew just what needed to be done. Fred was sure his colleagues, Jenny and Steve, would be onboard as well, given the opinions they’d previously expressed, and Fred was ready for a productive meeting with action steps and assignments.

For each department where an employee was being promoted, there was a representative at the meeting – Fred, Jenny, Steve, Alicia and Jonathan – each tasked with voicing their ideas and suggestions to ensure the annual event was a success. Fred called the meeting to order and jumped right in with a whole host of ideas to improve the event. Jenny and Steve threw in their thoughts as well, and in short order the event was planned with Fred summarizing the theme, time table, and keynote speeches. Alicia and Jonathon didn’t contribute much, but that was fairly normal as they were often the quiet ones in most meetings. The team created action items and assigned tasks and Fred left the meeting with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that they had a solid plan for the event.

Later that day, Jonathon saw Alicia in the break room and quipped “Did you like what came out of this morning’s meeting?”. Alicia responded, “I don’t like that we are going to assign seats for people; we are adults and can sit where we like. But everyone else seemed so keen on it that I decided not to say anything.” Jonathon replied, “Yeah, they were really into the whole chocolate fountain thing too. I thought we should spend that money on a gift for those promoted. Oh well, I tried.”

Assertiveness – The Quiet Ones Still Have Opinions

The Narrative Big Five Trait of Assertiveness is one of five sub-traits of the Extraversion category. Extraversion is defined as how much energy someone has for interacting with and influencing others.

When we look at personality differences, and particularly in how we define those in the Narrative Big Five, Fred, Jenny and Steve are people we would see landing on the far right of the scale where Jonathon and Alicia probably land towards the left. At least in this example we see an illustration of that behavior.

People like Fred, Jenny and Steve voice their opinions often and openly. And often times they forget to ask those on the left, who may be more reserved, their opinion on the subject at hand. Those who are assertive simply assume that when someone does not speak up, they are in agreement.

On the other hand, Jonathon and Alicia, who land on the left end of the personality spectrum on this trait, tend to voice their opinion more rarely. While they probably have opinions, even strong ones, they may not choose to voice them in the same way as those who are more assertive. As a result, those who fall on the less assertive end of the scale may come to resent decisions made and may be less than enthusiastic when implementing the “agreed” solution.

People who score in the middle of the spectrum often choose when and where they voice their opinion based on the situation or if they have very strong feelings on the subject.

How do we, in circumstances of opposites, find a solution to help these different personalities better communicate so that everyone has a say in the solution and they can ensure that a decision made is one supported by the full team? While compromises are often required, taking the time to ensure everyone is heard helps create lasting buy-in and engagement when teams are formed of diverse personalities.

The Message for Everyone

Awareness is the first step in ensuring everyone is heard. Understanding the different personality traits and their sub-traits helps us to better understand ourselves and others and helps us to strategize and leverage the strengths of each individual within the collective whole.

Appreciation and respect of diverse personalities and opinions is the next step in ensuring that the team buys into the plan/decision. If Fred, Jenny and Steve focus on remembering to ask for opinions and demonstrate inclusive behavior, Jonathon and Alicia may be more encouraged to speak up and the team, as a whole, achieves a better outcome.

While it’s easy to relate to people that are “like us”, to be successful, teams generally need to be comprised of individuals that fall all along the spectrum so that they’re able to leverage their respective strengths to drive progress and success.

The Message for Fred, Jenny and Steve
Remember to ask for other opinions, rather than assume that silence means agreement.

The Message for Jonathon and Alicia
While it may not always feel comfortable, voicing an opinion when you feel strongly ensures that you’re a proactive and contributing member of the team and will help to deliver a better outcome for all.

Learn where you fall on the Assertiveness scale…