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7 ways a manager can crush team members’ confidence and ability to speak up and contribute

Speaking to a senior executive recently, he told me about a change he saw in a team member he ‘inherited’. He described how this team member had shifted from being pretty much mute, with no opinions of their own, waiting for instructions and lacking initiative to being quite feisty, unafraid to express their views and showing passion for their work. Discussing what had happened and exploring our own experiences, we saw a few common things managers do which crush team members’ confidence and ability to speak up and contribute.


  1. Not listening, talking over, moving on, dismissing ideas
  2. Acting on assumptions and stereotypes, such as not inviting quieter members into the conversation, assuming disinterest or incompetence or putting people in boxes, not supporting opportunities to extend their skills or trying new ideas/activities
  3. Overly praising/supportive of people who are more outspoken, articulate, who take up airspace regardless of content
  4. Letting their insecurities affect interactions, such as being overly controlling, not supporting ideas that are against theirs, overly critical and corrective without clarity of why or how
  5. Telling them they need to ‘be more confident’ and ‘speak up’ without specifics or meaningful support
  6. Micromanaging, telling them the how to the nth degree, not giving them ownership
  7. Chopping and changing directions, moving goalposts, making it difficult to contribute meaningfully or achieve a goal


In most cases, the difficulty lies in managers not realising that they are behaving in this way or insufficiently aware of the impact they are having on the team. There are differences between espoused vs actual behaviours and/or intention and impact.


Espoused vs actual behaviour gap is when we overestimate the positive nature of our behaviours. It is the cognitive bias of overconfidence. (see Leaders Aren’t Great at Judging How Inclusive They Are and Dunning-Kruger Effect) For example, managers may claim that they listen while the team does not feel heard as managers regularly check their phones and rushes the meetings (a colleague described the phenomenon GILMO – “Got It Let’s Move On” – have you seen it?).


Intention vs impact gap appears when our behaviours have an impact we didn’t intend to have. For example, a manager might tell a team member to ‘be more confident’ with an intention to help them while it results in the team member doubting herself more (see Don't tell me to "Be more confident").


While the extent of the impact will vary from person to person, I’m sure you can imagine your engagement and confidence would drop over time with such behaviours from your manager. Can you also imagine that some talented professionals who are quieter and/or in minority groups may give up sooner as it takes so much energy to overcome these barriers?


Social scientists say that 70% of people’s behaviours are shaped by the environment, 30% by the individual. As leaders, when we think of people who don’t speak up and contribute enough, think of your behaviours and the environment created – is it helping or hindering these people?


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