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.
I'll stop here. I don't want to be a blowhard. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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