We’ve all been in Zoom meetings where one team member dominates the conversation, monopolizing the airtime. Regardless of the relevance of their input, the excessive talking disrupts the group dynamic, and as a team leader or manager, it’s crucial to address this issue. As a leader, how do you address this? If left unchecked, you effectively let one person control the meeting at the expense of others.
In the current era of virtual meetings, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, this has become a recurring problem among the executives I coach. Without visual cues to signal when their participation becomes overbearing, the offender’s face remains on screen as their voice rambles on. The rest of the team silently wonders and thinks, “Here we go again, shouldn’t our team leader really intervene here?”
So, what can we do as team leaders?
Fortunately, there are ways to get your meetings back on track. With the right approach, you can curb excessive airtime and foster more equal participation and engagement. Here’s a simple framework which I found effective and that you can implement in almost any situation:
Let’s assume the team member who tends to talk too much is named John. Here’s how you can handle John’s contributions and restore control and harmony:
Organise a one-to-one meeting with John
- Private Conversation: Schedule a private one-on-one meeting with John who tends to speak too much. This will allow you to address the issue discreetly and avoid putting John on the spot in front of the entire team.
- Positive Reinforcement: Start the conversation by acknowledging John’s valuable contributions and his expertise. Make it clear that his input is valued, and that you appreciate his dedication to the team.
- Provide Specific Feedback: Gently and objectively point out the behaviour that you’ve observed, where John has been dominating the discussions. Use examples from past meetings to illustrate your point, so John understands the impact of his actions.
During the meetings
- Set Expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations for balanced participation during team meetings. Encourage the team member to be mindful of the time they take to speak and to be attentive to the contributions of others. Explain that for the team to thrive, it is crucial to ensure that all team members have an opportunity to participate and contribute their ideas. Encourage open dialogue and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts.
- Facilitate Equal Participation: Actively facilitate the discussion to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak. Politely intervene if John (or another team member) starts to dominate the conversation and redirect the focus to others who haven’t had a chance to share their thoughts. Gently reinforce if needed with something like: “Let’s be aware of sharing airtime today.” If they interrupt another team member (let’s call her Nastya for example), politely interject “Let’s let Nastya finish her thought first.” Redirect back to Nastya.
- In lulls: Prompt others for perspectives. “Sarah, what are your thoughts on this proposal?”
- Encourage Active Listening: Remind the entire team, including John, about the importance of active listening. Encourage them to ask questions and seek input from others to foster a collaborative atmosphere.
- Consider Time Limits: If necessary, consider implementing time limits for each team member’s contributions during meetings. This can help ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to speak.
- Follow Up: After implementing these changes, observe how the team member adjusts their behaviour in the subsequent meetings. Provide positive feedback if you notice improvements and continue to support their efforts to contribute effectively.
- Be Patient: Changing behaviours takes time, so be patient and allow the team member to adjust gradually. Encourage open communication and let them know you are there to support their development as a valued team member.
Understanding motivations: The key to coaching over-talkers
But before you have your one-to-one meeting with John, get ready! John’s excessive talking during meetings likely comes from a combination of factors, rather than a single issue. Taking time to evaluate his potential motivations will allow for a more empathetic, tailored, and productive one-on-one meeting.
- Some possible reasons for John’s behaviour may include:
- Craving attention/validation
- An ego-driven personality
- Lacking self-awareness and social skills
- Being overly competitive
- Having expertise or passion about the topic that leads to compulsively sharing
- Poor listening skills
- Being on the autism spectrum
- Having narcissistic tendencies
- Being rude and self-absorbed
- Using excessive speech as an anxiety coping mechanism
- Coming from a sales background reliant on long pitches
- Being from a culture that encourages dominating behaviour
So, when dealing with a team member like John who hijacks the conversation, don’t rush to label him. Sure, it’s tempting to write him off as an egomaniacal windbag. But arbitrary assumptions won’t serve the team or John.
Instead, approach your one-on-one with curiosity, like a psychologist seeking to understand him better. Try to figure out what drives his behaviour and motivations. Here is the good news: You don’t need to have a degree in psychology for that, just curiosity and open-mindedness.
Avoid making assumptions and judgments, and offer constructive feedback tailored to his strengths. Be understanding, as this will help him become aware of how his actions affect others and encourage positive changes.
By taking a thoughtful approach, we can help John improve his communication skills and become a more collaborative and respectful team member.
I hope you’ve discovered some valuable insights here. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments about how it works for you and what techniques you use to manage overly enthusiastic team members. Share your secret sauce with us!
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