Don’t Miss Out on Good Ideas: 4 Tips for Open Communication

Portrait of Laura Izurieta

By Laura Izurieta, Chief Risk Officer, Silicon Valley Bank

Here’s a thought: When we talk about inclusion and diversity in the workplace, shouldn’t we also talk about diversity in communication styles?

I’m a vocal supporter of diversity in terms of surrounding myself with people of different  backgrounds and with varied experiences and demographics. But sometimes the inclusion part gets undervalued. What good is having a diverse team if you don’t create an environment that is conducive to sharing points of view? You’ve not only missed the point, you’re missing out on good ideas.

Over my career in financial services, I have worked hard to overcome my natural tendency to be an introvert. Let’s face it: often the loudest get the most attention in the business world. Nobody gets a gold star for hanging back and posing the right solution hours later. Why is that?

I think it’s because people equate aggressiveness with power and confidence. I remember how frustrated I felt early in my career, where I was part of an all-male team. Sometimes it seemed I didn’t exist in the room. In that case, I figured I couldn’t let them control the conversation, so I joined in the robust discussion, even if it wasn’t my natural inclination to do so.

No longer. For me, a large part of inclusion involves encouraging and expanding diversity of thinking and communication styles. There is no right way or wrong way, as long there is respect. I like to think before I talk and sometimes it takes time to formulate an opinion or reasoned response. I love quick wits, but that doesn’t mean you should be the quickest on the draw in every meeting.

The good news is we are advancing our thinking on how to encourage different styles. One former boss, knowing I was not a big talker at meetings, threw me a curve ball. She asked me to mentor a promising young man who also was an introvert. It was genius: I came to recognize that a successful workplace requires meeting people where they are, not necessarily where you think they should be.

Here are my four tips for encouraging diversity in thinking:

 #1. Avoid group think.

If the ideas don’t seem to be flowing in the meeting you’re leading, consider a new kind of meeting format. Invite people to share their ideas in a smaller setting, online or face-to-face in your office.

#2. Know that creative tension is not bad.

I work with colleagues whom I respect, yet many times we don’t see eye to eye. It’s just that we look at our role in the organization through a different lens. While sometimes we just agree to disagree, most times there’s a sensible compromise hammered out over an open and honest discussion.

#3. Show respect. 

No eye-rolling, whispering or checking your phone while someone is speaking. Sounds obvious but we all know people who do it. If you can’t help yourself, leave your phone outside the meeting room.

#4. Shake it up.

If you are a big talker, try being quiet for one meeting. If you, like me, usually prefer to listen and later share ideas, try offering up an idea at the top of the meeting. Astute colleagues will notice these changes, especially if you are the leader. Should they ask about your change in behavior, compliment them and tell them you are trying to encourage different styles. Ask them to do the same. To this day, I hate meetings during which everyone shouts over each other as they vie to get their ideas on the table or impress the boss. A quick way to have impact is to show there’s another way.

I find the healthiest workplaces are those that find ways to appreciate a broad range of thinking and communication styles. We recently had a great discussion among my team members about the best way to talk about inclusion and then implement it. While the company needs to set the tone and make it a priority, it can’t make people think inclusively. So if you believe in it, then it’s up to you to be inclusive. To me, that builds real business value and opens the door of opportunity for those who may not have had access before.


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