TeamBuild April 2019: Share the conversational pie

Don’t you hate when you get stuck in a conversation with someone who hogs the “conversational pie”? Similarly with groups, members disengage when one person, or a few people, take up most of the air time. If some people don’t participate, you may miss key data, not get the best decisions, and most importantly, not get full buy-in. I try to be explicit about sharing the conversational space when facilitating a meeting; here are a few approaches I use.

Set the tone early

When I ask for introductions, I say how long or what elements to include and then start first in order to model brevity. If an introduction that follows mine goes on too long, I step in to reinforce the standard.

Engage naysayers; confront bullies

Welcome individuals that disagree. Ask for a contrarian view. Thank them. If naysayers are valued, they may participate in a useful and insightful matter. However, I don’t believe in letting one individual dominate. In my June 2017 blog post about bullies, I mentioned an example in a senior team retreat when someone who had already spoken twice, asked for the floor a third time. I told him that I was going to call first on people who hadn’t spoken yet. He stomped out of the room; I let him go. Later, he returned and waited his turn.

Write it first

Sometimes the fastest thinkers talk more. I often ask a group to individually write their thoughts down on a subject before opening the conversation to the whole group. In this way, thoughtful people who need more time to organize their thinking, may feel more ready to enter the conversation.

Write it for all

I’m a big believer in taking public notes – either on flip charts in a meeting or in an online document during a conference call. I started my consulting practice years ago with a group that worked with high-level Soviets – they called me their secret weapon because I took notes on flip charts and when the Soviets repeated something they had said, I would point to where I had already written it down. Seeing that their point was noted, they would smile and stop repeating themselves.

I also use public note-taking to organize interventions, so that I can acknowledge what someone says while holding to the agreed agenda. “I’ve noted this here; let’s come back to this when we address xyz in the agenda.”

Set the tone, be consistent, and use writing; people appreciate a well-balanced conversation and you’ll get the best out of your group.

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