We’ve all sat in an eerily quiet meeting and wondered why no one would speak up. We may assume, then, that our colleagues didn’t have enough time to prepare, or were distracted, or simply didn’t have much to add about the topic at hand. But what we might not suspect is that expectation creep could have set in. If you’ve ever given up on something because you didn’t think you’d meet your expectations (or someone else’s), you’ve experienced expectation creep — and it might be what your colleagues are coping with as well. 

Many of us believe there is a “right” way to do things to achieve our goals, Jennifer Guttman, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of A Path to Sustainable Life Satisfaction, tells Thrive. Our fear and stress around doing things the “wrong” way — and thus, being judged or surpassed by others — ends up holding us back, in meetings and our work lives in general. Your colleagues might keep mum in meetings because they’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. Here are three ways to help them overcome expectation creep and build a stronger sense of connection by encouraging them to speak up during meetings.

Focus on the present

To help your colleagues keep their expectations in check, emphasize that they should stay focused on the here and now, rather than obsessing over what could come after the meeting. “Getting wrapped up in the end game will result in a lack of focus and energy for the task at hand,” Guttman says. Ask the team to stay present throughout the course of your meeting, or even take a few minutes to complete a grounding exercise as a group.

Set personal standards for success

Comparing ourselves to other team members, or worse, letting them determine our participation (or lack thereof) in a meeting, is a sure way to let expectation creep settle in. To practice your Microstep of encouraging everyone to speak up, you need to foster an environment with a free flow of ideas — without an atmosphere of comparison or competition. Ask meeting attendees to set their own definition of meeting success at the start of your discussion. Maybe one colleague wants to ask questions as they arise, instead of emailing them after the meeting has ended, and another wants to listen closely to what others have to say before jumping in with her opinion. As long as participants are gauging success by their own measures, instead of someone else’s performance, they’ll be sure to avoid the pitfalls of expectation creep. “Your own ambition is more important than competition,” Guttman says.

Avoid multitasking during meetings

It can be a challenge to hit pause on a task you’re working on and immediately shift into a meeting mindset — that’s why it’s all too common to find your meeting-goers multitasking. Many people think multitasking will help them get more done in less time. However, research has shown that trying to tackle several tasks at once can actually become more time-consuming and lead to more mistakes — not to mention that multitasking during a meeting will make it difficult to keep up with conversation and share your point of view. Ask your attendees to save outside work for after the meeting, and better yet, lead by example and close your laptop, too, and request that everyone follows suit. With less distractions, you might just find your colleagues are more engaged and eager to share their ideas. 

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