“I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems.” ~ Elon Musk
No one wants to attend a meeting just to listen to someone, namely you, talking in a seemingly endless monologue. That defeats the entire purpose of most meetings, and the purpose of most teams. Dealing with issues, solving problems, and other purposeful results are the point of good meetings.
The situation becomes worse if you’re dominating the meeting and you are the most senior person in the room. With that power dynamic in play, there are few who will engage.
But I had to keep talking: everyone else was being silent!
This is a common reaction of people who are told that they are dominating meetings by talking too much, particularly leaders. And it might in fact be true that all the other participants were remaining quiet; too quiet, perhaps. The solution lies in considering why those people may not be participating, aside from your verbosity:
- Should they be at the meeting? If they aren’t directly impacted or useful in the meeting, their silence might be simply a lack of connection or interest to the topic.
- Are they prepared for the meeting? Someone who is pulled into a meeting without a chance to prepare might not feel up to the task of participating fully.
- Do they need prompting? There are a lot of people who are naturally introverted. They have a lot of knowledge but might require a direct question or prompt in order to share it.
Have point form notes handy
Perhaps it’s not so much a penchant for pontificating as a tendency to babble that keeps you talking. It’s a common problem, particularly when faced with a silent room. To avoid falling into that pattern, have point form notes on what you DO want to say at the meeting and stick to them! Deviating off those points, except when explicitly asked a question, will lead you down the road to talking too much. Stay on message and you’ll find the meetings more effective, more efficient and, in time, with more people talking.
Remember, just because you know something doesn’t mean you need to share it! If you also know that others on the team have specific expertise on a particular point, let them speak to it, and if they aren’t, encourage them to. Then sit back and actually listen. Listening is a key component to truly collaborative communication, so practice it!
Set an agenda so everyone knows what’s coming
People are more likely to speak up if they have had a chance to prepare, even mentally, for the task at hand. If everyone receives an agenda in advance of the meeting, they’re more likely to come prepared to speak on the topic. If they are just ordered into a meeting and haven’t had the opportunity to organize their thoughts or materials, they’re more likely to remain silent rather than risk looking foolish.
If a decision is being made, ask everyone’s opinion
Particularly in meetings where a decision needs to be the outcome, it’s important for all those involved to be heard, so make sure they are by asking each person to comment, in turn. That ensures that no one is being singled out, but in fact everyone is, which makes it easier for everyone to speak.
And if you are in a leadership role, aside from running the meeting, don’t shut down what others have to say that you don’t like, out of hand. That has a chilling effect for other speakers, and future meetings. Instead, share what you like about what they said, what your concerns are about it and ask for suggestions from that person, and the others, about how those concerns could be addressed. It’s a simple method that doesn’t leave the original speaker feeling like their opinion isn’t valued and it keeps the idea alive.
Keeping your words in check and encouraging others to speak up is how collaboration works best so keep your meetings meetings working well by deciding to say less and listen more.