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When They Won’t Participate

When They Won’t Participate

What do you do when you are responsible for running a meeting but no one speaks up? No one contributes. Everyone just sits there, eyes glazed, looking to you to carry the conversation. Or worse, they are looking in their laps where their phones are.

This situation could be in a firm meeting, a client meeting or a community board meeting. It’s all the same: as the meeting leader, you have the responsibility to make it work and no one is helping you. That’s when you get irritated with people or intimidated that you don’t know what to do. What CAN you do?

Well, there is something that experienced meeting leaders do that will draw them out.
I remember sitting in a client-team meeting where there was a partner, a manager and two younger staff. The well-meaning partner really wanted to get his team’s input on serving the client better, but as usual, he talked and they just sat there. The more he spoke, the less they engaged. The less they engaged, the more he spoke. Hmm. Sounds like a reinforcing loop to me.

After a while, one of the younger staff remembered a comment the client had made and remarked about it. His addition added a dimension of thought that altered the direction of the meeting. As I observed, I knew this was a moment of truth for the partner. How he responded would set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.

Fortunately, the partner responded well and acknowledged the accountant’s contribution. He said, “Oh yeah. They did say that. Thanks for reminding me.” While the accountant’s comment altered the course of the discussion, the partner’s response changed the tenor of the meeting. Slowly, there was more participation by all in offering ideas and suggestions. People engage when the feel their contributions matter.

“That’s a good point, Ellen.”

“When Al made his comment, he triggered a thought I hadn’t considered.”

“I like that your perspective is making us think differently about this.”

Even if you aren’t leading the meeting or you’re not of the highest stature, you can respond this way. It has the same effect—people feel good, valued and wanting to participate. These are the teams that work well and are fun to be on.

Try it and let me know how it goes. We all learn together.

Written by Guy Gage

Guy Gage is the owner of the PartnersCoach, a coaching and consulting firm to professionals in private practice. Holding a license in counseling and a certificate in human performance improvement, he has consulted with and coached professionals for almost 20 years, guiding them to increase their effectiveness and career satisfaction. Website: http://www.partnerscoach.com