Here is an excerpt from an article written by Paul Axtell for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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We all complain about meetings. We have too many. They’re a waste of time. Nothing gets done. These complaints often have merit, but they are so broad that they’re difficult to argue with and harder to address.
There are specific complaints that can be tackled, however. When I ask people in the workshops I lead what they most want help with, five issues consistently come up:
- One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it.
- My boss doesn’t lead meetings effectively.
- Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues.
- No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops.
- We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.
Fortunately, there are specific solutions for each of these problems. Based on my 25 years of experience consulting with organizations and teams about how to lead effective meetings, here is what I’d suggest.
One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it.
If a meeting is 60 minutes long and you have 10 people, how much time does everyone really get? While the answer depends on the topic, if some people consistently speak more often or longer than others, colleagues will resent them for not being concise and taking up valuable meeting time. With limited time, you can’t expect that everyone will contribute, especially if there are a few people who seem to steal the show. Here are some ways to broaden the participation:
When you open the meeting:
- Let the group know that you want broad participation and that everyone has a chance to contribute on each topic.
- Ask for permission to call on people when you want to get more views into the conversation.
- Tell people that you will not leave a topic if anyone still has something to say or ask.
- Ask people to set aside technology (see below) and any other work and to focus on each person when they are speaking.
During the meeting:
- Pay full attention and allow each person to complete their thoughts. If you and everyone else in the meeting does this, people who tend to dominate will likely start to limit themselves. It’s easier to go on and on when no one is listening!
- When you have the sense that someone is speaking too often, ask them to hold back their thoughts for a moment. You might say, “Andre, let me get some others into this conversation and then I’ll come back to you, OK?”
- Whenever someone gets cut off or interrupted, always double back and ask them to finish their thoughts: “Sarah, was there something else you wanted to add?”
- If you’re the person interrupted, speak up. You can say, “Jacques, I wasn’t quite finished. I’d like to complete my comment, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
After the meeting:
- If you have concerns about some people speaking more often or longer than they should, let them know: “Troy, I would like the participation to be a bit more balanced in our meetings. It would be helpful if you waited until other people have entered the conversation before you add your thoughts. Also, I’d appreciate it if you’d look out to see who hasn’t participated yet and invite them share their thoughts.”
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Paul Axtell is an author, speaker, and corporate trainer. He is the author of two award-winning books: Meetings Matter and the recently released second edition of Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He has developed a training series, Being Remarkable, which is designed to be led by managers or HR specialists.