In a previous post, I examined several approaches to interrupting fellow meeting attendees relatively safely by using formal roles or informal customs. These methods cover many situations, but not every situation. For example, the meeting in question might not be a "standing meeting" — it might be a meeting of people who don't meet regularly, and who therefore haven't established formal roles like the Designated Digression Detector, or customs like the process check.
In addition to the tools described in that post, some other tools include seating position, courtesy, wit, deftness, confidence, courage, and whatever reserves of goodwill are present in the relationships among everyone in the situation, but most especially, in the relationship between the interrupter and the person interrupted. In this post and the next, I offer some thoughts about all these resources and how they can meet the needs of the interrupter. For convenience, I'll use the name Inez for the interrupter, and Steve for the speaker. Apologies to all the Inezes and Steves out there.
- Seating position
- In face-to-face meetings, seating yourself centrally gives you advantages when you want to interrupt. At the periphery of the meeting, interrupting is difficult because you're more likely to be out of the line of sight of most of your fellow attendees. This invisibility reduces the effectiveness of gestures such as raising your hand slightly off the table surface, or turning to face the speaker you're intending to interrupt. Seating position is even more important if the Chair or Facilitator is diligently managing the speaker queue.
- In In face-to-face meetings,
seating yourself centrally
gives you advantages when
you want to interruptsome virtual meetings, when most attendees are co-located and you're the one calling in, and when you're attending via the speaker/microphone placed in the center of the table, you have license to interrupt that co-located attendees do not. Unlike the co-located attendees, you can start speaking at any time. When you do, there's a good chance that everyone will fall silent immediately. Try it. The license derives from a belief that when remote attendees begin to speak, they haven't always discerned that someone was already speaking. Generally, that belief is invalid, but many people believe it anyway.
- The relationship between interrupter and interrupted
- If the relationship between Inez and Steve is limited, wounded, or otherwise in need of repair, or if Inez is less powerful organizationally than Steve, interruption can be dangerous. It can further wound a wounded relationship, or complicate the formation of a healthy relationship if one doesn't already exist. Unless the relationship is relatively healthy, with the exception of relatively dire emergencies, the wisest course for Inez is to sit quietly and let someone else interrupt.
- So if you've repeatedly felt the need to interrupt a particular person over a sequence of meetings, strengthening your relationship with that person would be a wise move, because it will enable you to interrupt him or her with much lower risk of offense.
- To be courteous is to show deference and respect for others. In some sense, then, the term courteous interruption is an oxymoron. One key to success is executing the interruption in a way that most will interpret as showing deference and respect for the person being interrupted.
- For example, if Inez begins her interruption when Steve pauses to breathe, her interruption can seem like something else, because she began speaking during a pause. Similarly, she can interrupt when Steve pauses at punctuation — at the end of a sentence or in the space between two clauses.
- Asking permission to interrupt is another way to use courtesy to disguise the interruption. And the really good news is that you don't actually need to wait to receive permission — asking is enough. Examples: "May I add one thing?" or, "Can I add one point?" Using the word add is helpful, especially when addition is not what's actually happening.
- Courtesy-based techniques can seem to some to be a bit of a subterfuge. Using them too often renders them transparent and ineffective.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Recovering Time: I
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring
your working day in larger chunks.
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- How to Eliminate Meetings
- Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended
many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could
change our lives.
- Tangled Thread Troubles
- Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes
lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.