This week, I was feeling like I didn’t have much to say. And rather than post something just for the sake of posting, I thought I’d simply stay quiet.
And then the lightbulb went on. Simply stay quiet.
It’s a relatively simple action that is wildly underused in our non-stop, back-to-back, meeting-centric world of work.
We talk, text, post, chat, ping, message, and more constantly throughout each day leaving little space for much else.
When it comes to meetings, a staggering amount of time is devoted to repeating, rehashing, and reliving previous meetings instead of moving forward. Talking, talking, and more talking. But to what end?
What if we tried something different? What if we stayed quiet?
What could we accomplish with all that extra time?
The Benefits of Quiet
There are three that come to mind immediately: better listening, better questions, and better time management.
When you are not talking, you have the potential to be listening. And I say potential because ‘not talking’ is not the same as listening. (If you’re already commenting on that thought inside your mind, you’re not alone and there’s more on that in a minute.)
When you are listening better, you’re taking in information better. And that gives you a clearer idea of what makes sense and what doesn’t, creating the potential for you to ask better questions.
And the elephant in the room is better time management. Better meetings have the potential to consistently put significant amounts of usable time back into your schedule.
Everything I need to know about authentic listening, I learned from Pulp Fiction. A deleted scene, but a life lesson nonetheless.
Uma Thurman’s character asks “when in conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?”
And John Travolta’s hitman character answers simply and honestly: “I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I’m trying hard to listen.”
Same, Vincent Vega, same.
When you find yourself losing track of the conversation because of the thoughts forming in your mind, consider writing down one or two word bullets instead. It only takes a second, but it empowers you to do two key things: remember your ideas and return to listening.
Writing down a few key words frees up vital real estate in your mind to focus on listening to the person speaking and taking in as much information as possible.
And, your bullet notes provide just enough of a cue to jog your memory when it’s your moment to speak so you can remember exactly what you wanted to add to the conversation.
When you’re listening better, your capacity for comprehension increases which positions you to ask better questions.
Better questions reinforce understanding and, perhaps more importantly, create a bridge to span information gaps. Susan Cain has some wonderful examples of this in her book Quiet.
When you’re engaged, it’s easier to spot the areas of a project, a plan, or a strategy that are solid and those that lack clarity. For the areas that are lacking, thoughtful questions can help challenge the group to think differently.
This type of dialogue, spurred by better questions, often results in a moment or two of thoughtful silence while the team sorts through the underlying issues.
The conversation that ensues may reinforce decision points, prompt small adjustments, or lead to fundamental changes.
Better questions move a team forward and, more often than not, they lead to inspired discussions that make a project more efficient and effective.
These conversations do not occur by accident. They are the result of deliberate leadership and team cultures that value open and transparent discussion.
Better Time Management
There’s a good chance you were on board with me from the jump that better listening and better questions are obvious ways to improve meetings. But, what does all of this have to do with better time management? Won’t this actually lead to longer meetings?
No. Assuming, of course, that everyone has agreed to offer their full focus during the meeting.
Authentic listening goes out the window when you’re simultaneously answering emails, responding to chats, and any of the other myriad actions that split our attention and make us less effective in the moment.
Quiet the mind for the meeting you’re in. Prioritize meeting monotasking and make it the expectation for all. Give it your full focus and you have a winning formula for shorter, less frequent meetings.
Why? Because better listening, combined with better questions, actually creates the conditions for meetings that run more smoothly – and quickly – effectively transforming them into stepping stones between periods of focused, independent or asynchronous work.
Meetings are not spent rehashing and repeating. Meetings are not spent wading through the contributions of only the loudest or most persistent voices.
Instead, they are mini periods of targeted work that are laser-focused on specific tasks and outputs. Shorter meetings that result in put usable time back into our schedules. Usable time that liberates team members from the meeting treadmill so they can do their best work.
How to Simply Be Quiet
Listen more. Speak less.
We can add value to our meetings by doing exactly that.
Sure, it’s easier said than done.
But it’s imperative if we want to lead meetings that matter to the people involved, honor their time, and support the work of the organization.
We need the quiet; both to understand our work more deeply and to ensure that when we do offer contributions to a discussion, they are succinct, relevant, and supportive of the goals.
If you’re wondering how you might do that in real life, here are three quick and easy ways to get started.
Practice It – There’s no shortage of meetings to practice in. Take stock of your own habits and make a point of monotasking during meetings and giving those in attendance the respect of your undivided attention.
Model It – Lead by example. Ask better questions and then step out of the way, allowing for discussion to flow and creativity to blossom. Offer prompts and redirection to emphasize the value of multiple perspectives, respectful dissent, and true collaboration.
Endorse It – Make thoughtful contemplation and meaningful dialogue a cultural norm in meetings by calling attention to it, validating the expression of it, and highlighting the results of it.
We can change meeting culture and do extraordinary work together. And perhaps it all starts with simply being quiet.