If you’ve been in organizational life for longer than a week, you’ve probably been dragged into a meeting…a meeting with an over-talker. You know the type. Over-talkers are those colleagues who feel compelled to provide commentary on each point—sometimes talking over others in order to express it. They’re the ones who ask “questions” that are actually just rambling declarations of opinion that end with a “so what are you thoughts on that?”
The big problem with over-talkers, besides the time wasted, is the effect over-talkers have on others in the room. Quieter, more introverted, and often lower “status” members of the organization that are in on the meeting don’t get the opportunity to offer their comments—and so we end up making a decision or even just assuming consensus when not every perspective has been taken into account. One loud person asserts themselves in every single situation when what you really need is to hear multiple different voices.
Short of a total personality overhaul, it’s hard to permanently silence an over-talker, but there are some things you can do in the meeting to lessen the opportunities they have to butt in. My favorite:
When it comes to discussion points in the meeting, pair people up. No need to over-think it, just have them pair up with the person next to them and share their thoughts with their new partner. BUT, when it comes time to bring those paired conversations into the larger room, ask each person to share their partners ideas instead of their own.
Beyond just summarizing their partners ideas (and hence saving us a LOT of time compared to hearing the over-talker’s entire diatribe), this method also allows the sharer to add their perspective to their partners ideas—so more perspectives get shared automatically. In some cases, the over-talker may still be tempted to add his comments (let’s be honest…it’s usually a “his”). But the facilitator can simply remind everyone that their turn to share will come soon, when they share their partners’ ideas. Overtime, the tone of the meeting changes and you may even find the over-talkers using their unquenchable desire to speak as a way to add ideas to their partner’s comments…not their own.
Like verbal judo, the over-talkers weight gets added to the under-sharer’s opinions and the whole room benefits from more perspectives.
Pair, share, and then promote each other’s ideas.