3 kinds of people getting talked over in your meetings—and how to fix it

Who speaks in your meetings? Who doesn't? Who gets interrupted?

There are three groups of people whose voices tend to get squeezed out, Renee Cullinan, cofounder of Stop Meeting Like This, writes for the Harvard Business Review. Those are introverts, remote attendees, and women. Cullinan suggests ways to support each group and ensure they feel heard.

Introverts: Give them a little extra time

A typical meeting: Many people have an unconscious bias that responding quickly and loudly are signs of intelligence, Cullinan writes. For example, you've probably seen meetings play out like this: the meeting begins, someone makes a presentation or shares some data, and then kicks off a discussion. Some people immediately begin throwing out ideas, while others remain quiet.

What to do instead: Don't make the mistake of thinking that the people who stay quiet for a few minutes aren't paying attention or don't know as much about the topic, Cullinan warns. She writes that it's likely these individuals are more introverted and are simply taking time to process the information and finalizing their thoughts before speaking.

As such, one way to support introverted attendees is to simply give them more time to think and formulate their responses, Cullinan writes. Before the meeting, give them a head start by sending everyone the meeting agenda and any accompanying data. After the meeting, send a summary of the discussion and ask attendees if they have any follow-up thoughts. Another strategy that can help your quieter attendees during the meeting is directly asking them for their opinion.

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Remote attendees: Remember that they're on the line

A typical meeting: When most of the attendees are in a room together, it's easy for them to forget about attendees on the phone. Cullinan shares that she's gotten feedback from remote workers that it can be difficult to break into a conversation and that people attending via phone feel excluded.

What to do instead: Sending an agenda ahead of time is also helpful for remote attendees because it helps them follow along, Cullinan writes. And don't forget to send an electronic version of any materials you plan to use during the meeting.

Cullinan recommends using video conferencing, if available. She also encourages meeting leaders to regularly stop to ask whether remote attendees heard everything or have a comment.

Women attendees: Watch out for interrupting

A typical meeting: Studies have found that women are much more likely to be interrupted than men (research has also found that culture and status play a role, as well). It's so common that a recent New York Times article argued that being interrupted is "a nearly a universal experience for women when they are outnumbered by men."

What to do instead: Cullinan warns against framing interrupting as a "women's issue." She points out that hearing everyone speak and overcoming bias are goals that can help your organization be more successful.

Cullinan suggests creating standards of participation for every meeting attendee, such as that no one may talk over someone else, or that every person gets a chance to speak before the group finalizes an important decision. She also recommends asking all attendees to point out interrupting when they see it happen (Cullinan, Harvard Business Review, 4/29/16; Chira, New York Times, 6/14).


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