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Slow to Speak

In a world of meetings, I find myself taking one of two postures – intensely wanting to say something or zoning out. But what if I wanted just as badly to hear what others had to say, just as much as I feel that I need to be heard? For type-A, fast-moving, and dominant personalities like mine, it is a hard mindset to change. Sure, I hear what people say in a meeting, but often I am forming the next thought in my head and don’t want the conversation to move on before I have made my point.

Recently I made an effort to sit in on a few meetings that I had no stake in with one goal – get every voice heard. I did not realize until I took this on just how different of a mindset this really is. I was listening intently to the speakers, but more importantly, I was reading the body language of other attendees and watching who was trying to un-mute their Zoom square to say something. Here are a few things I learned from this exercise.

Are there any ‘outsiders’?

First, it is really hard to get a word in as an ‘outsider’. When I am in my own meetings I don’t seem to have any trouble getting my voice heard, sometimes speaking just over the last syllable of someone else to make sure no one else cuts in (We may not like admitting that, but a lot of us do it). However, as an outside attendee, I had an extremely hard time getting a word in, and all I wanted to do was call on someone else!

My takeaway here is for meeting owners and facilitators – pay attention to who might feel like an outsider in your meeting. Call on them and make sure that they have a chance to speak, otherwise, they may try their hardest and still fail to say anything. Those who have a good rapport with the team will chat until the bell rings, but the visitors have a lot of trouble interjecting, so give them a hand.

Providing space for non-dominant personalities

I also learned that non-dominant personalities give up a lot quicker on getting their opinion heard. I saw talkative people try time and time again to un-mute and cut in after someone else and they usually succeeded after a few attempts. Others, however, only tried once or twice and when they were thoroughly run over by their colleagues they essentially gave up on saying anything for the rest of the meeting. Can you blame them? That is a lot of effort for something that you are not confident is valuable to the whole team.

So meeting attendees – after you say one or two things, try to back off and provide space for those who may be just on the verge of giving up.

Inviting team members to participate

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when those quiet people were finally heard, what they had to say was gold! The one sentence from the one person that I finally called on changed the whole landscape of the meeting. It would have spurred a much more productive and innovative conversation, but by the time we heard it, we only had a few minutes of the meeting left. This is where desire comes in – a desire so intent on hearing the nuggets of gold out there that you suppress your desire to have your own opinion heard.

For everyone in a meeting, cultivate that desire. Invite your colleagues to speak. Even if they are not sure their contribution is important, they often offer great insight when given the space to do so.

So how do you go about this? Practice. You cannot expect to change your instinct to talk (I have talked people’s ears off since I learned to string a full sentence together as a toddler), and you probably will not ever get rid of that urge to say what you are thinking. But you can practice stopping yourself, reading the body language of others in the meeting, and calling on someone else before you speak.

If you have something important for the team, put it on a meeting agenda. If you have a number of fast-talkers invite them to all put their important thoughts into the agenda. Then when you start the meeting, read those topics out. You have now been heard, that box is checked, and you can move on to listening intently to the conversation that is waiting to be had.

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