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.
WHEN THEY HAVE USED THEM ALL, THEY’RE OUT!!!!!
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
And do please share this technique around the organisation. Who knows, it might even change the meetings culture over time!