A properly planned and executed meeting can be an excellent way to communicate information and share ideas. But many employees dread them as unproductive time sinks — and they might be right. Research shows that half of the hours spent in the 11 million business meetings that happen every day in the United States is actually wasted on off-topic discussions. One of the most common time-wasters are people who won’t listen without making assumptions about what the speaker is saying, and insist on interrupting and offering advice without fully understanding what the speaker needs. If an individual with poor listening skills is allowed to hijack a discussion, the result can be a ripple effect of negativity on an entire team.
Imagine that, in the weekly meeting, a member of a team voiced concern that her current project seemed to have hit a wall. Before she could finish describing the problem, however, another member jumped in with a lengthy monologue about how he had solved similar problems in the past and just had to have the last word — all related to his experience, not to the project at hand.
The junior member soon stopped trying to talk, frustrated and without a resolution. Meanwhile, the rest of the group had turned their attention to emails, texts and other activities, because they knew that once this person had the floor, there was no hope of arriving at any useful decision.
The first step to avoiding this worst-case scenario is to start the meeting with all electronic devices stacked on the table, to be touched only to research a point relevant to the discussion. That will keep everyone invested in listening to everyone else and offering relevant input.
In our example, the manager should bring the conversation back to the junior member by asking how the group could help her, including the senior manager, who has already offered his ideas. Anyone running a meeting has the authority of the chair to provide a platform to anyone who might feel they are not being heard. When everyone can both express themselves and truly listen, any meeting can become more productive.