Who Should Talk the Most?

Status, power, security, and who talks (or doesn’t) during meetings.

May 17, 2016

A modest meeting etiquette proposal for your consideration:

  • Those with the least organizational power, status, and security speak most.
  • Those with the most organizational power, status, and security speak least.

What do you think?

What I am suggesting that we try out is a concerted effort for some of us to say less, and some of us to say more.

This proposal goes against the current reality of most meetings - as those with the most power/status/security also tend to speak the most.  Meeting interactions tends to revolve around the behaviors and beliefs (and often body language) of the most senior person in the room.

Many professional meetings are more performance than information sharing, with efforts being made to align with the powerful.

I am not suggesting we codify meeting rules, or that anybody enforce some bizarre (and neo Cultural Revolutionary) new set of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Rather, this modest suggestion is that all of us - you and me - think twice before we talk in meetings.

If we are people who tend to talk a great deal, that we talk less.

If we are people who tend to talk less, that we talk more.

In particular, I am suggesting that those who already enjoy a measure of privilege (and security) find some way to be more quiet.  That those with the most capital spend some of these resources to buy opportunity for others.  Opportunities to publicly develop ideas.  Opportunities to be heard.

This is not a call to stop contributing.  We need the contributions of everybody.  Rather, I only ask for a recognition that those that are most senior, most accomplished, and most experienced in an organization often have multiple channels in which their voices can be heard.  They do not need to talk so much at meetings, because they have other platforms to exert their influence and opinions.

We should not be worried that our meetings will fall silent.

If those with the most power talk less, then discussion will still occur.  It may be, however, a different type of discussion.

Perhaps a cultural shift in meeting etiquette - one where the usual suspects are not running the gathering or contributing the most - will take some time to grow accustomed.  There may be some initial uncomfortable silences.  Who is in charge?  Why are we sitting here without anyone talking?

My recommendation is to give it some time. Sit with the quiet a bit. Through our own actions, we can create a space to listen to those that are least often heard.

Could changing how we meet change how we work?



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