Meeting blowhards are people who repeatedly consume more talk time in meetings than the value of their contributions can justify. Being a blowhard is not about getting more than one's "fair share" of talk time. What matters most is whether the time blowhards consume is in line with the value of their contributions.
Most of the techniques that control blowhards so effectively in face-to-face meetings don't work as well in virtual meetings. For example, in a face-to-face meeting, if a blowhard is just starting to hold forth, we might declare a break to interrupt the blowhard, and resume after the break with a change of topic. But in a virtual meeting, if we declare a break, we can lose valuable time and perhaps several participants.
Because blowhard behavior is a performance issue, it's best to deal with the problem through the blowhard's supervisor. But to handle it in the moment, here's a set of suggestions for controlling blowhards in both face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings.
- Manage the queue
- Most large meetings (more than six to eight people) maintain queues of people waiting to speak. Many small meetings don't, because informality usually works. But if blowhards are present, queue management helps in rationing time: "Let's leave it there, we have a couple of people in the queue."
- Limit time per contribution
- Agree in advance to cap the time contributors receive with each speaking opportunity. Three minutes might seem short, but try it. Filling three minutes with real, original value is usually difficult when speaking extemporaneously.
- Limit the number of points per contribution
- Agree in Agree in advance to cap the
time contributors receive with
each speaking opportunityadvance that contributors limit themselves to just a few points, subject to the ruling of the chair. Limits make the conversation easier to follow, but more important, they compel people to focus on what they regard as most important. And they hobble blowhards. Two is a good number.
- Ruthlessly enforce a no-digression rule
- Because consuming large chunks of time while staying on topic is difficult, blowhards wander. Define a no-digression norm, and appoint a Designated Digression Detector with the authority to interrupt the meeting at any time, to enforce it.
- Ban voluntary summaries
- Because summaries consume time without requiring original thought, blowhards love summarizing others' contributions. Ban voluntary summaries. Let that be a duty of the chair, or delegate it to a Designated Summarizer who fills the chair's requests for summaries.
- Ban restating others' contributions
- Restating what others have said, with possible distortions, is another pattern blowhards love. Ban restatements as a waste of time. Require all contributors to make their own points directly.
- Have build-only discussions
- Another favored blowhard pattern is deflecting the conversation into territory more favorable to the blowhard. Declaring a discussion to be "build-only" prevents this. All contributions to build-only discussions have the property that they build on, elaborate, or make inquiries about one or more previous contributions.
- Don't engage
- Engaging the blowhard with objections, interjections, critiques, or almost anything else only serves the blowhard's purposes, because engagement usually requires a response from the blowhard. If private intervention has failed, and supervisor intervention has failed, and the blowhard behavior continues, let the blowhard's contribution plop (See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003). If someone else picks it up, deal with it then.
Are your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!
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More articles on Virtual and Global Teams:
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- Long-Loop Conversations: Anticipation
- In virtual or global teams, conversations are sources of risk to the collaboration. Because the closed-loop
response time for exchanges can be a day or more, long-loop conversations generate misunderstanding,
toxic conflict, errors, delays, and rework. One strategy for controlling these phenomena is anticipation.
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I
- Your meetings start on time, but some people are habitually late. When they arrive, they ask, "What
did I miss? Catch me up." This is an expensive way to do business. How expensive is it?
- Disjoint Awareness: Assessment
- When collaborators misunderstand each other's work and intentions, they're at risk of inadvertently
interfering with each other. Three causes of misunderstandings are complexity, specialization, and rapid
- Disjoint Awareness: Systematics
- Organizations use some policies and processes that can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate
understandings of what each other is doing. Performance management, politics, and resource allocation
processes can all contribute to disjoint awareness.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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