As with all forms of communication, e-mail messages can suffer from unbalanced input due to one dominant person, or from peer pressure. A vocal minority can edge out the silent majority, creating an inaccurate view of true sentiments. Watch for signs of this in e-mail communications.
• Do some individuals rarely participate in the discussion?
• After one person gives his or her opinion, does the debate end abruptly?
• Are there cliques in which some people find it difficult to voice their opinions without being subject to ridicule?'
• Do employee surveys indicate that some people feel left out of the conversation?
• Do some distribution lists contain obvious omissions?
• Do groups pounce on a particular individual whenever he or she tries to enter the discussion?
All of these symptoms, and more, are indicative of an imbalance. Given the political nature of people, how can you fight this? You can be a champion for open communications. Most people who are being exclusive do not realize it until it is brought to their attention. The majority of people will cooperate out of a sense of fairness, but the leader needs to set the expectation:
• Make sure it is safe for every voice to be heard.
• Maintain appropriate balance of power within the group.
• Keep communications flowing to all appropriate parties and address any inconsistent distributions.
• Take the lead in rebuilding an environment of trust and investigate how things got out of balance.
• Hold people accountable for inappropriate behavior.
A leader can also help equalize input by specifically drawing out the reticent people in this way:
• "Thank you all for the great input. I think we have a good dialog going on this topic. I would be interested in Dave's and Sue's viewpoints as well before we move forward."
Obviously, you need to do this with sensitivity, because Dave and Sue may not want to weigh in on this issue. Giving them encouragement to voice their opinion is as far as you can go. If you understood from history that Dave and Sue would rather not comment, don't push them out of their comfort zone unless their input is vital for a decision. The issue to be addressed from a trust viewpoint is why Dave and Sue don't want to be heard at this point and how that can be remedied.
Work to intervene when cliques become too powerful or exclusive. Sometimes it is necessary to move some people to another activity to break up a dysfunctional group. Helping people or groups see the big picture is a way to build the necessary trust to improve morale, create motivation, and help peer pressure be a positive force for the organization.