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Jacopo Martolini

Encouraging quiet people on meetings

1 min read


How to cope with a colleague that is contributing in private but silent in group discussions?

A meeting can become polarised by a few participants that do all the talking. It is important to facilitate, posing particular attention to the attitude of its attendees. Look for quiet people, they might be bored and would rather be anywhere else in the world, or, they would like to give their contribution but are somehow blocked. This restrain could be due to feeling intimidated or unsure of their knowledge of the subject (especially with junior profiles).

Create a safe environment. A little psychological trick that can be effective to break the ice is to give the possibility to everyone to say something at the beginning of the meeting. Look for behaviors that are harmful to constructive discussions and block them fiercely.

Facilitate and motivate. There are some questions that may come handy trying to get contribution from the quiet person:

  • "do you agree with what Gianni said?"
  • "what could be some aspects that we have not taken into consideration?"
  • "do you have an example of how this could be applied?"
  • "can you do a little recap for us of the decision we have discussed?"

Give contextual feedback. After the meeting try to do informal 1-to-1s to get impressions and give feedback. Discuss if something was off. It is important to point out positive outcomes with specific examples like: "I've appreciated how you helped us frame the problem from the security point of view".

Let the conversation continue asynchronously. Some ideas need time to be digested, keeping a channel open to discuss further the topic of a meeting can benefit everyone. The minute of the meeting can be a place where the conversation continues, putting thoughts on a written form is also an exercise for brevity and clarity that is hard to achieve on the verbal form.

Over time I've noticed that direct involvement is less and less necessary in a group that has been working together for some time. The role of the facilitator can move to set the stage, encourage the beginning of the conversation and enjoy a meaningful discussion.

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