How to Stop the Long-Winded: With Class
I was on a call the other day with people from around the world. Usually, these calls are awesome. The fact that I get to work with people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, and beyond is amazing to me. Life is not always awesome, though.
This last call was not fun. Apparently I was one of those long-winded people. A reaction from the meeting chair ended up hurting my feelings. I felt shut down. I stopped sharing my ideas. Some of you may be saying, “good, you and the other long-winded people need to keep quiet for a while.” Maybe you have a point. The short term goal of shutting me up moved our agenda along. The long-term impact was I stopped providing ideas in the meeting. That is not a good thing.
What happened was we were discussing a topic and asked to provide questions if we had one. I had a question, so I started in. My question was not yet well formed. I started talking trying to formulate the question. I am an extrovert, so I talk to think. At some point during my dissertation, the chair of the meeting piped in “Kupe, Kupe, Kupe!” I don’t know maybe there were 10 Kupes before he got my attention. I was trying to talk fast so I could get to my question. I was not rambling for the sake of rambling, I promise! I finally stopped and he said, “Kupe, you are going on and on, do you have a question? WHAT is your question?” That’s when my feeling got hurt, that’s when I stopped talking out loud and said “whatever” in my internal voice. I think I even threw up the “Whatever” sign. You know, making a “W” with your 2 hands. We didn’t have video, he couldn’t see me. I’m 44, but I can still act like a child! I ended up asking a question. But you could hear a new tone in my voice. I became disengaged. For the rest of the meeting, I shut down.
I know some of you are saying to yourselves, “jeez Kupe, man up. We need to have thicker skin than that.” Believe me, I know. I do have pretty thick skin. My kids say that they love that I don’t care what others think. The context there is I do goofy things trying to embarrass them. Needless to say, I am very comfortable with who I am, my thoughts and beliefs and don’t get my feelings hurt often.
The point is, even people with the thickest skin can get their feelings hurt or get defensive. You need to make sure you are facilitating meetings where people feel they have input. Where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. The goal is buy-in. I talk about this more in a post titled “Your goal is not to shut people down just for the sake of sticking to an agenda.”
Related Article: It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert
There is a real problem here. You need to make people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. You also only have so much time. The long-winded are a challenge. The ones that don’t speak are a challenge too, but they don’t take up any time. What are you to do?
In a face-to-face situation, peer pressure comes into play. When you have a long-winded person going on and on, people start shifting in their chairs, looking at their phones, etc. People start to see their team’s reactions and may adjust. In a remote session that peer pressure is gone. Many people are on mute and you don’t see anyone. It actually makes the long-winded even longer-winded because they are not getting feedback. In my case, I was not sure people on the call were understanding where I was going with my thoughts, so I kept going. That is until the rude “KUPE” to the tenth power came from the chair.
Some would say, it’s all about relationships. If you have a good relationship with the people you work with, then you can be less politically correct. I am a huge believer in relationships and promote it all the time. Even if you have great relationships with others, you need to be careful. I have a great relationship with the chair of this meeting. I have a really good relationship with the others on the call. In my situation, the chair did need to stop me. In hindsight, I was really long-winded. In many of your meetings there may be a person or two that needs to be stopped.
Is there a better way than coming across as abrasive? Is there a way to do this without hurting others feelings? More importantly, is there a way that does not stop engagement from others?
My tip is don’t leave it up to the person running the meeting. That puts all of the pressure on one person to keep a meeting running smoothly. Eventually, that person snaps and comes out with a statement that can shut down the talker. It needs to be clear in the meeting that everyone has the right/ability to get the long-winded to wrap up. Come up with a code word or sound. When that sound is made or word spoken the talker needs to wrap it up. This can be used for face-to-face meetings too, although it is critical for remote meetings. Make sure everyone knows it is not personal. It’s about making meetings more efficient.
Don Palmer from The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank recently told me about an analogy he used to show his executives the effect of showing displeasure when project managers present project status reports that included issues. He refers to it as hitting the goalie. Don explained there is a rule in hockey that prohibits players from hitting the opposing team’s goalie. This originates from not having many people want to play goalie. Kids want to play offensive, goal-scoring positions. So, there were not a lot of goalies out there from which to choose. If a team hit the goalie and the goalie was injured, teams would have to go to a backup goalie. Then if the backup goalie was injured, there was no one else left to play the position. This would completely alter games. In the project status world, Don explained if you badgered the project manager for bringing up issues during status reporting, PMs would begin to present all positive results during the project. Then in the end the projects would fail because they were hiding the truth all along to avoid the public badgering. This behavior did not allow executives to make decisions along the way to get the projects back on track. Don explained that badgering a PM is like hitting the goalie and pushed to have a “no hitting the goalie” rule. Now in status meetings if one executive is badgering a PM, another executive will say, “you are hitting the goalie.” I think this is brilliant. This is now a term that everyone understands and respects. It also results in PMs sharing the information as it is and not sugar coating the status of their projects.
There is no silver bullet. Feelings will get hurt. Your goal as a leader is to work consistently towards obtaining full participation. The outcome you are looking for is buy-in from the group. You gain buy-in by allowing the team to share their thoughts.
To not hitting the goalie,