Dysfunctional meetings. Tool 1: getting people to shut up.

Most people I come across in the training room spend more time than they would wish in meetings.  If you include conference calls, it’s far from unusual to hear people say they spend more than half their working life in a meeting of some sort.

Ask them how productive these meetings are and the answer is, predictably, that they just aren’t.  They are frustrating, inefficient and unproductive.

Given the number of man hours we are talking about here, I have decided to produce a mini series featuring some techniques for making these miserable experiences less dysfunctional.  Call it my contribution to human happiness if you like.  And please pass these tools on to your fellow victims!  Together we can make a difference!

So here goes:  one of the biggest problem areas…..can you guess…..”undemocratic use of air time”.  That’s the trainer (polite) speak version.  You and I can call it “getting the loudmouths to shut up.” 

In fact these “loudmouths” aren’t being deliberately talkative and dominating proceedings.  It’s just that they’re Extroverts (ask them what their Myers Briggs profile is if you want to check this) and they think out loud.  They are the ones who kick off the discussion, love the interaction and the cut and thrust of debate, and are  the ones who provide energy to proceedings.  Until they ignore the Introverts, who are quietly waiting their turn, rehearsing what they want to say, politely trying to get a word in and failing.  At which point the frustration builds, and after being ignored a few more times the Introverts disengage and turn into Rebellious Children.  Not a good environment for balanced debate, consensus, commitment to action, I think you’ll find.

So, here’s my first tool for doing something about this.

If you attend a regular meeting where “imbalance of contribution” is a factor, suggest this as an exercise for the next meeting.

Give everyone a paper cup and 10 paper clips. (I respectfully suggest that empty cups work better than full ones, unlike the one I have, not totally helpfully, shown.) Every time they say something, they have to put a clip in the cup.   


They are no longer able to contribute.  Their lips are sealed.  Muted.  Powerless.

You will be amazed at the immediate effect this has.  The whole discussion slows down.  There are pauses whilst people weigh up whether to use a clip or not.  They start watching each other and observing body language.  Extroverts start thinking before they open their mouth.  Introverts gain a democratic ticket to being heard.  It is joyous for all.

Plus it’s fun, and energises proceedings, as it feels like a game, which sadly is not something we do enough of at work (subject of another Blog, no doubt).

If you want to analyse your meeting before trying out the remedy, I have a great analysis tool I can let you have.  Someone can use it to give rigorous personal feedback supported by hard data on every individual’s contribution to the discussion.  It is impossible to avoid the evidence, at it names and shames the high (and low) contributors!

For a free copy of the analysis tool email me at michaelbrowntraining@live.co.uk

And do please share this technique around the organisation.  Who knows, it might even change the meetings culture over time!


About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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5 Responses to Dysfunctional meetings. Tool 1: getting people to shut up.

  1. Margaret Hickman says:

    Hi, have passed this on to the chair of our management team meeting. I think as a strategy it could be very useful. Thank you.


  2. Pingback: JenniferWhitt (JenniferWhitt)

  3. John Gough says:

    I am all for no meeting Mondays, think how productive that day could be. In fact so productive you could spend the rest of the week in meetings.


  4. Pingback: introvertleader (Jennifer Kahnweiler)

  5. A great idea for inviting reflection before talking. I’ve always believed that if you don’t know what an extrovert is thinking, you weren’t listening. If you don’t know what an introvert is thinking, you didn’t ask. In your next meeting, try inquiry before advocacy. It really opens up the conversation.


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