The quiet person at the end of the table

Will Lukang, PMP, MBA, MASCL

From workplace meeting to volunteer team meeting, there is one thing in common.   The meeting is often dominated by a few who have a lot to say.  Sometimes those same people will monopolize the meeting and everyone comes out of the meeting feeling like they did not accomplish anything, or the discussion goes off on a tangent and creates more confusion than necessary.

While it is true that it is not entirely the fault of the meeting dominator if everyone else does not have anything to say,  we also have to understand the role the meeting dominator plays in the particular situation.  If the person is the subject-matter expert, then perhaps there is a merit for letting the person lead the discussion.  However, there should be a delicate balance between monopolizing and getting everyone else’s viewpoint.

In every meeting, there are always people who come to the meeting but do not say anything.  Sometimes they are mistaken for people who do not care.   But that is far from the truth. Those people who stay quiet are often shy or afraid that their comments or ideas might get shut down, or they might not be comfortable participating in a group discussion.   The challenge is getting them engaged and making them comfortable in sharing their ideas.   You’ll be surprised that the best ideas could come from the most unlikely source, in this case the quiet person at the end of the table.

The challenge is to get everyone’s input and make people comfortable in sharing their ideas.    Below is my recommendation on how to strike a delicate balance:

1)      Always have a facilitator in the meeting.  The role of the facilitator is to keep everyone on track and on topic.   He/she will also make sure no one monopolizes the meeting.

2)      Start the meeting by setting ground rules.

3)      State in the meeting that everyone’s suggestions and comments are welcome.

4)      Suspend judgment.

5)      Seek everyone’s opinion by going around the table and asking everyone their opinion.

6)      When in doubt, place items on a parking lot to be reviewed later. This way the discussion will not be off track.

7)      Decide on action items.

8)      Send summary and follow up to ensure that action items are taken care of before the next meeting.

Personally, I usually scan the room and make myself aware of who’s who in a meeting.    I also make sure that I make a round and ask everyone for their comments and opinion.    In a situation where I felt like I did not get enough comments and suggestions, I would usually send an individual follow-up e-mail to each of the participants that were quiet during the meeting.    Doing so gives those people a chance to think through what they want to say.   In my experience, the quiet person at the end of the table often has something valuable to say that could help the project.    So, the next time you’re in a meeting, seek everyone’s opinion and make sure to ask the quiet person at the end of the table.


One comment

  1. Will– Thank you for reminding those of us who have a lot to say (guilty!) that there is a better way. You give us well thought-out plan for successful meetings. Thanks – Roy

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