“Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at.”

I think public humiliation – or even the possibility of public humiliation – is something many, if not all of us, avoid at all costs. We can be quite terrified to speak up and offer our ideas if we’re worried that others might think us foolish…and laugh at us.

As the quote above notes, that is how we most likely lose many great ideas.

Human beings are communal animals. We evolved to live in groups in order to defend ourselves against predators. We evolved to need each other to survive and to thrive. This is, perhaps, why we’re unwilling to put ourselves out in a way that others might think less of us. We most likely fear being ostracized and rejected – being kicked out of the group we need to be part of in order to feel okay (and, again in the days of predators, to remain alive). This is also, perhaps, why surveys list “public speaking” as the number one fear, or at least up in the top few.

We’ve evolved to not speak out in a way that might get us excluded or laughed at, and this evolutionary behavior might be limiting the risks we’re willing to take and the ideas we’re willing to share. And yet, we possibly need to take some of these risks and to have more great ideas offered up for consideration. What can we do about this?

There are a few steps you can take yourself, and as you lead your team, to encourage a bit more risk taking and idea sharing:

  • Make your team a “safe space” – when we decide as a group that we will listen to ideas without judgment, defensiveness or ridicule, we make our team a safe space and encourage everyone to take a risk and share what they’re thinking
  • Share “unbaked” ideas yourself – by sharing a thought that is not fully formed or completely vetted, you can model this behavior to others
  • Use questions as a team to make ideas great – curiosity questions and questions to bring clarity are great ways to make whatever ideas are offered to the group even stronger and again to model that it’s okay to share an idea that isn’t fully worked out
  • Acknowledge the fear and do it anyway – sometimes simply pointing out how all – or most – of us have this same fear of ridicule makes it easier for everyone to move past the fear and share their potentially great ideas

We have evolved to keep quiet at times, in order to preserve our communal “safety” and acceptance, and now we need to evolve to be able to take a risk and share what we’re thinking anyway. There are ways to encourage and challenge yourself and others towards this new behavior, and there are many great ideas that we may benefit from as a result.

How have you learned to share your ideas anyway?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

If you want to take more risks, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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