How much do you talk in meetings at work?
How much do you tweet, blog, comment, and post?
Could these two behaviors be related?
In my professional life I try to listen more than a I talk. In meetings I work at actively listening to my colleagues.
This is hard. For me, talking comes naturally.
At work I almost always have an agenda. Something that I’m trying to get done. The natural inclination is to persuade. To make arguments - and to back up these arguments with evidence.
Throughout my academic career I’ve been rewarded for talking more. In graduate school we are trained to contribute in our seminars. At professional meetings we gain attention, and build networks, by being active in discussions.
Traditionally, this bias to reward speaking up has been present at work. We are expected to contribute to our shared work - and much of that work takes place in meetings.
I’m wondering, however, if the dynamics of talking in work meetings are changing.
Many of us I suspect, not just me, are actively working to be more quiet.
Why should this be?
Hypothesis 1 - Inviting Contributions:
We are all more sensitive to the benefits of workplace diversity, including a diversity of viewpoints. Many of us have been strongly influenced by the social psychology literature. From this research, we understand that naturally quiet people have just as many good ideas as the more voluble. Unless some of us shut up and open up space for others, we will never get to hear what our smart colleagues are thinking. The work that we do is hard - we need all the insights that we can get.
We are also understanding the vocal sharing tends to conform to dynamics around power and status. High status people speak more, pause longer, and interrupt more frequently. Those higher in a hierarchy will take up more air time. This is bad, as good ideas do not respect hierarchy. The smartest thinking is, in fact, more likely to come from the folks closest to the work.
Hypothesis 2 - Social Media Presence:
One reason that I know that I can talk less is that I can say so much. Blogging gives me the space to develop my ideas and sharpen my thinking. Many of us heavy talkers use talking to think. I don’t know what I think until I write or say it. The opportunity to share my thoughts with you in this space is like opening a pressure valve - it diminishes my need to express my thinking when we are together in person.
Most of my colleagues are more balanced in their social media contributions. You will blog tweet here, blog there, and comment all over the place. Your posts appear on a variety of platforms. You say just as much, but your social media contributions are more varied.
With twitter, blogs, comments, listservs, and other platforms - all of us have a place to share our ideas. We can create more of a social media presence and therefore afford to develop less of an in-person presence.
Could it be that contributing to social media is freeing us to listen more?
Should we be actively encouraging our colleagues, our students, and our direct reports to listen more and talk less?
Should we be modeling behavior where we say our piece more in digital space, and less in physical space?
This is not to argue that we should never talk. We should. We should just be more conscious of how much we speak, and of the degree to which all of our colleagues are invited into our conversations.
Are you also contributing more and talking less?
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