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Were you saying something?

How much of your meeting time is taken up by people who aren’t saying anything? 10%? 20%? And conversely, how many people have something to say but never get a chance? Why do meetings fall out of balance like this, making unlimited space for drivel and no room for real ideas?

Let’s start by defining “drivel”. Drivel is defined as “silly nonsense.” Some silly nonsense has a purpose, it can bring the team closer together or break the tension with a laugh. That’s fine, keep doing that. I’m talking here about the noise that simply fills the space.

You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything. When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed. Say something once, why say it again?

— David Byrne

I’ve heard from several people that they are taught to “make sure you contribute”, “make sure you say something”, “make sure everyone knows you are there.” Wow. What terrible advice! And what a disservice this has been to the corporate community! Please please if you are a manager telling your people this, cease and desist at once! And if you’ve ever gotten this advice, I implore you to seek a second opinion. This misguided advice has cost the world millions of dollars in productivity.

On the flip side, if you have something to say, I don’t want to scare you away from saying it. By all means, speak up. Just don’t go searching for something just so you can know you said something.

Here are some ways I’ve combatted drivel.

Make ‘just listening’ ok. Sometimes people can just listen in a meeting, and that’s ok. Some people absorb information and then new thoughts sprout out later. Make this ok when you start the meeting by saying something like “if you don’t have any ideas now, that’s fine. Just listen, and if you think of something later you can add it to the collaboration site.”

Interrupt. I don’t like to encourage interrupting, but if someone is not saying anything they are begging to be interrupted. Think of it this way you are saving them, they don’t know how to stop, they need a life raft. Be mindful to interrupt with love and respect.

Is it you? Oh, this is awkward. You might be the one. Here’s a little trick, track how long each person speaks in a meeting. You can either use a timer or just count how many times each person speaks with tally marks. Is someone filibustering? Is it you? If it’s you, stop, just stop.

What have you done to cut down on the meaningless talk at your meetings?

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