All groups have at least one so-called “loudmouth” among them; the person who can be counted on to ask questions, raise concerns and share their opinions on everything, every time.
These people tend to get a bad rap, from both peers and leaders.
Their comments often cause meetings to go on longer than planned, and they sometimes make others a bit squirmy with their frequent boat-rocking. But, are they actually detrimental to a workplace?
On the contrary, I’d say that they are assets. Instead of trying to squelch your opinionated employees’ expression, you should harness their power and appreciate their potential influence on morale and productivity.
A Forum for Expression
In my experience, the group’s resident loudmouths tends to become even louder when they are not given a forum for expression. Companies that are run like monarchies are much more susceptible to mutiny than ones that seek and value everyone’s voices.
Regularly scheduled open forums are a great place to start. Not only do open forums communicate that you want to hear your team’s voices, but they are an ideal way to brainstorm creative solutions to tough problems. Great ideas often come from unexpected sources, and good leaders know that.
Giving people a reliable outlet for their feelings, thoughts and even criticisms ensures that opinions are expressed at the right time and place. Not every meeting should be a free-for-all. If someone brings up off-the-subject issues at a tightly-packed meeting, you can say, “That sounds like a perfect point to discuss at the forum.” Then you can move along without it seeming like you’re trying to shut anyone up.
Unofficial Team Rep
Your perception of your team’s most frequent speakers might not be the same as their colleagues’ perceptions. You may think that the rest of the team is rolling their eyes and waiting for them to stop talking, but they may actually be internally fist-pumping about the fact that someone had the courage to speak up.
In the various (and varied) professional teams I’ve been a part of, people tend to rely on the loudmouths; they depend on them to address awkward topics or bring up criticisms that everyone else is too nervous to express. They may be the only ones in the room who are willing to “take one for the team” in order to get an issue out on the table.
Of course, this isn’t always true. However, you should consider the possibility that these people represent the unspoken thoughts of others. When an issue is brought up, ask yourself, “Is it possible that anyone else here agrees?” If so, ask the question aloud and show your team that you consider it a valid concern. You’ll find that once you invite others to comment, it may open the floodgates, and you could learn very valuable information in the process.
Using their Strengths
Expressive employees are your best secret weapon. They are natural leaders and passionate about improvement. So, enlist their help. Put them in charge of committees, seek their advice, and use their insights to make your company better.
You will probably find that they start becoming less of a loudmouth as you treat them differently. After all, the best way to make someone stop pushing so hard is to remove the force of resistance.
While opinionated and confident employees’ methods can sometimes be problematic, their intentions are often good. Once you establish that they aren’t just trying to get attention or show off, find ways to give them the time and space to express themselves. More importantly, find ways for them to offer solutions to the problems that they may be so quick to point out.
– Rod Miller is the Head of New Program Development of Corporate Award Source, an online supplier of custom awards for companies and associations of all sizes. They design and manufacture emblem jewelry, service awards, rings, plaques, gifts and custom awards. For more information, visit Corporate Awards or find them on Google+.
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