Shut up first, talk later

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Jun 17 2020 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Video conferences and on-line meetings can sometimes just fail to get going or generate the interest, input and engagement you want. In fact, they can be almost painful. It can be nigh-on impossible to get people to contribute or ask questions, and getting your team to share information seems to be far more difficult than it should be. People often ask me what they should say in this situation. The answer, funnily enough, is to say as little as possible.

My colleague, and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute, Kevin Eikenberry, has a simple rule for running meetings that ensure maximum input from participants. Put simply, other than saying hello and formally starting the meeting (maybe), the leader should be the last to speak.

Too many meetings follow a familiar pattern. The leader welcomes everyone, there’s a roll call (which usually takes way too long and is interrupted by people beeping in and asking if you can hear them), then the leader gives her update, then asks for ideas, questions, or reports from the group. All too often there isn’t enough real conversation, sharing of information, or cries for assistance. Then everyone hangs up, grateful the torture is over for another week, and goes back to work.

This isn’t the best way to engage people or keep them involved. But what is the alternative?

Try hearing from the participants first, THEN offer the leader’s viewpoint. Why?

  • Hearing from everyone in a structured way eliminates the boring “roll call” approach.
  • Everyone is expected (and gently coerced) into participating early. The longer people remain passive during a webmeeting, the more likely they are to stay that way. Think about it: if your report to the group is the only thing between them and the blessed relief of hanging up, why would you keep things going?
  • As the leader, you often try to anticipate objections, problems, and questions when you give a report. Often you over-communicate in an honest attempt to cover all the bases. By letting the others go first, you can identify areas of concern, confirm what people have said, and often speak less because that information has been covered.
  • If people know they’ll be expected to speak early, there’s a better likelihood of them showing up on time, or at least less late than usual.
  • You create a culture of active participation, rather than passive attendance. This reduces (because nothing completely eliminates) the problem of people “tuning out”, answering emails rather than truly listening, and resenting the time spent.
  • Because the attendees have told you what they know, what their concerns are, and what the gaps are, you can then focus your remarks and discussion to what’s really important. You also can identify those team members with specific interest or expertise and leverage that to create more of a true team where people rely on each other, and less on the boss. Making your own life simpler is a worthy goal for any leader.

If more leaders spoke less, or at least later on, there would be increased participation, better information sharing and more effective meetings. Not a bad thing at all.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.