We notice it most clearly in brainstorming, but it can happen in any meeting. Some people dominate the conversation (I'll call them Outspoken), while others seem unable to get a chance to speak (I'll call them Softspoken). When the Softspoken do get a chance to speak, an Outspoken often interrupts, preventing the Softspoken from finishing a thought. Eventually, the Softspoken give up trying, if they don't actually leave the room. Or, in virtual meetings, they sign off or begin indulging in their favorite digital pastimes.
Understanding the experiences of all involved helps us allocate airtime more fairly. Let's begin by exploring the inner experience of the Outspoken.
- Excited, capable, and articulate
- Some of the Outspoken are excited and passionate about the discussion. If they're also knowledgeable and articulate, they might feel an overwhelming desire to contribute. They're so fully involved that they're unaware that they're taking more than their fair share of the airtime.
- Seeking attention
- To gain attention, some of the Outspoken exploit their advantages. Motivations differ. Some want to make a case for a particular mission that they hope the group will adopt. Some hope to enhance their own political stature, possibly to gain promotion or influence. Others seek to dominate solely for the thrill of domination.
- Believing no one has anything to say
- When a pause in the conversation occurs, or even before a pause develops, the Outspoken are more likely to believe that no one has anything to say. They conclude that it's permissible to contribute whatever might be in their minds.
- Rude or careless of the rights of others
- Some of the Outspoken recognize that their own behavior is rude, but they're either careless of the rights of others, or they feel that the discussion is so important and urgent that civility and politeness must be temporarily suspended.
- Strategically assertive
- Someone When someone repeatedly dominates
meetings, understanding the
experiences of all involved helps
us allocate airtime more fairlywho wants to limit opportunities for others to express points of view contrary to their own might steer the conversation in what they regard as a safe direction. They speak at length, and interrupt anyone who might express a contrary view. What might seem to be simple rudeness can actually be strategic.
- Politically powerful
- When the Outspoken are politically powerful, some consider them to be demonstrating their power. They don't actually have a point to make, other than that they're in charge. Perhaps. Also possible: the Outspoken feel threatened, weak, and small, and they dominate the meeting to validate their own images of themselves.
- Composite Outspoken
- The Outspoken might be two or three (or more) individuals, allied with a single purpose. They might plan in advance to express their point of view in a way that deprives others of airtime. But because the Outspoken are multiple people, they don't seem to be dominating the meeting.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good
idea, but there are some hidden costs.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Overtalking: III
- Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer
short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others,
what can you do about it?
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you
do? How can you regain control?
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