How to Run a Meeting that Incorporates All Points of View
Diversity can be hard work. It can feel like a lot of effort to create a space or run a meeting that allows everyone to be their most productive, engaged, and appreciated. When it starts to feel that way, instead of asking yourself, “Is this worth it?” ask,
“What is the price you pay for not getting the best input?”
Answer: it’s a big one.
People regularly overlook women, people of color, introverts, people who identify as trans or non-binary, junior employees, and employees who are a more advanced age, to name a few. Each of us has something unique and valuable to add to the conversation. Missing out on differing perspectives and diversity of thought is a significant detriment to you and your company.
Start by being more aware of your unrecognized biases. We all have them and they guide our daily interactions with people. Meeting biases are no different but they are easily addressed. Atlassian has identified three common meeting biases that can get in the way of running an effective meeting:
Unconscious Bias #1
“Smart people think on their feet and react quickly.” This negatively affects introverts. Let’s say you ask a group where you should go to dinner tonight. You might think the first person to raise their hand has the best answer, just because they were first. Meanwhile, a foodie, who happens to be a bit shy, is going through her mental list of fabulous local restaurants. She’s actually the more credible source of information but needs more time to think and perhaps some encouragement before she speaks.
Unconscious Bias # 2
“Out of sight, out of mind.” This one affects colleagues who join a meeting by phone or video. We humans are hard-wired to pay the most attention to things (or, people) in close physical proximity to us. It’s rare that we intentionally exclude people joining remotely, but it’s easy to forget they’re there.
Unconscious Bias #3
“Men contribute more.” Men interrupt women far more often than they interrupt other men. Sometimes it is even so men can explain something the woman actually knows more about or men often reiterate a woman’s idea as if it were their own. (This is where we get the terms “manterruption,” “mansplaining,” and “bropropriation.”) The behavior may not be intentional, but its pervasiveness is proven by research.
One of the easiest ways to begin creating a more inclusive space is to start with your team meetings. Wouldn’t it be incredible if every time you finished a meeting you felt confident that you got the best out of everyone during the time you had together?
Here are a eight ways to amplify the voices of your team members whose input is not regularly heard or hasn’t been appropriately considered:
When a team member makes an important point, verbally acknowledge the importance of what she said by saying something like: “Aisha just made an important point.” “That was really helpful, did everyone key in on what Joann said?” “What Fernanda just said made me think about this issue in a new way.”
2. No interruptions
If someone is interrupted, either stop the interrupter or come right back to the person who was interrupted after the interruption is over. You can stop the interrupter by saying, “Sergio, give Julia a chance to finish and then we’ll come back to you.” Or after the interrupter is done, you can say, “Susanna, you did not have a chance to finish what you were saying, please continue.” Or you can do something like what a few teams at the collaboration software development company Atlassian do. They have rubber chickens in meeting rooms that people can “squeak” when someone has taken up too much air time or interrupts a colleague.
3. Give credit where credit is due
If someone makes a point or suggestion during a meeting that another member already made, say, “Yes, thanks, that’s the same point Maria made a few minutes ago.” Or, “Thank you for bringing Sue’s good suggestion back to our attention.”
4. No talking down
Stop people from condescendingly explaining something to a woman or insisting that they know more about a subject than someone else does when they are clearly not the most knowledgeable or experienced in the subject area. This practice of silencing or discrediting teammates or hijacking opportunity to speak is so common that it has a name – mansplaining. We don’t need to label the behavior, we need to stop it from happening.
5. Be patient and listen
If people aren’t speaking up in a meeting that you are in, ask them if they have anything they’d like to add. This is especially important for the introverts on your team. Introverts aren’t quiet because they are disengaged or don’t have anything to contribute. Often, they’re processing, organizing their thoughts, and waiting for the right time to share. Ask for feedback before, during, and after a meeting to give introverts a clear opportunity to share their ideas. Keep in mind that when it comes to ideas, quantity doesn’t mean quality. Resist the inclination to automatically view the most talkative contributors as the as the most valuable ones.
6. Prepare in advance
Send detailed meeting agendas and materials in advance when possible. Some people need more time to process their thoughts and will feel more confident and ready to participate in the discussion if they have had adequate time to prepare. Reach out to people you don’t usually hear from in advance of the meeting and let them know you value their perspective and would like them to be prepared to participate.
7. Rotate meeting leadership
Ask someone different to run a meeting. All of us fall into patterns. If someone is used to looking to certain people to speak up (because they always do), it is easy to make that the norm.You will find that the group dynamic change and points of view you may have missed will be brought to the forefront.
8. Time speakers
Compare the speaking times of women or other minorities, and men in your meetings by informally timing and adding up conversation durations. (Note: some conference calling services automatically provide you with a summary of participant talking times.)
Implement these types of actions every time you step into a conference room or log into a conference call, and you will gain more valuable insights and ideas. And, when that happens, you and everyone you work with wins.