Complex Made Simple

Silent meetings: If your company wants results and ideas, ask participants to stay quiet

Aussie blogger Tim Denning wrote - in an article on Medium - that there are people who attend meetings and say nothing. He praises them. He's of the opinion that saying less is more. Is he right?

There are approximately 55 million meetings a day in the United States Attendees’ ideas are independently generated on paper (or digitally) in silence and authorship is not necessary Silent meetings are focused, efficient, and inclusive processes that puts egos aside and the company interests first

Aussie blogger Tim Denning wrote – in an article on Medium – that there are people who attend meetings and say nothing. He praises them. He’s of the opinion that saying less is more. Is he right?

“With every meeting, they get smarter, by saying nothing at all. They observe. The brightest spark in the room says nothing at all. They are there taking notes and paying attention to what is going on. They watch the duel of egos and see no room to interrupt,” Denning writes.

He describes them as doers, not talkers.

It’s a skill few are able to master or have the courage to muster. 

“What ruins business is people that don’t listen. When asked to speak, the idea is to speak with as few words as possible and make your point. Then, once you’ve said what you need to say in the shortest amount of time possible, know when to stay quiet again,” Denning adds.

“Knowing when not to talk is an art.” 

In a LinkedIn discussion forum, self-leadership coach and trainer Isabel d’Arenbergout said that many years ago, while doing theatre improv, she realized that often the quiet actors were actually more expressive than those who spoke a lot. They also got more of the public’s attention. When they eventually said something, it was often more meaningful and to the point. 

Fernando Santiago, Program, Portfolio/PMO Contractor/Consultant, trainer, and speaker said “One approach is to invite only those that will likely contribute. The rest are there usually to stay informed; send them minutes or a summary and ask them to send comments if needed. Someone may surprise you with great ideas; so you invite her/him to the next meeting. This relieves the pressure on introverts and optimizes your meetings.”

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Silence meetings: Methods 

Just to get an idea, there are approximately 55 million meetings a day in the United States. While discussion meetings have much merit, they can also be subject to a host of problems: one person dominating, others checking out and multitasking, side conversations, straying off course, and pressures to conform to the boss’s ideas.

Silence is a technique that may seem odd, but current research supports the benefits of holding a “silent meeting” as one way of better leveraging the ideas, perspectives, and insights of organizational talent.  

Silence is particularly well-suited for agenda items that require any type of brainstorming or ideation. 

Method 1: Clustering

Attendees’ ideas are independently generated on paper (or digitally) in silence and authorship is not necessary.

After the responses are gathered, leaders have a few choices with regard to what to do with the information collected. The leaders could begin by sorting the responses into “piles” of conceptually similar ideas (i.e., clustering), anywhere from 1 to 20 ideas.  This clustering process can take place at the meeting itself, or perhaps most efficiently, just before the next meeting. The leaders then present the clusters to the group to map out which ones to discuss and in what order.

Method 2: Voting

A second approach that leaders could try is implementing a voting process to eliminate unpopular clusters altogether. The leaders may present the clusters to the group by posting them to the wall, a bulletin board, a Google doc, in an app, etc. Each meeting attendee can then vote for their preferred cluster(s).  

When clusters are tallied up, those receiving the most support are explored via group discussion. This voting technique reduces the number of ideas, ultimately saving attendees’ time, in an inclusive and democratic fashion.

Method 3: Poster paper 

A third approach goes one step further with silence. Each idea or cluster is presented on poster paper and taped to the walls or desks (or again done in an app), typically spread out throughout the room to provide some level of privacy. Meeting attendees circle around the room with pens adding comments or expanding upon ideas. These comments or suggestions may vary, ranging from “not sure this is feasible,” to “here is an additional twist…” to “I love this idea.”  Basically, a discussion is occurring through writing, as comments accumulate and a text stream emerges. 

The end result of these brainstorming methods is a more focused, efficient, and inclusive process that puts egos aside and the company interests first. Ideas originators and enhancers will eventually show up and get involved by leading or implementing them.