You’re in a meeting about a complex problem facing your work group. Everyone’s got their own idea about the cause and what to do about it. The discussion consists of:
- Blaming bad decision-making or poor management
- One-sided perspectives on the “real” factors obstructing a fix
- Accusations about how no one cared about the situation until now
- Seat-of-the-pants solutions with little viability
- Chest beating about the no-win situation everyone is facing
The talk goes on and on. The veteran voices dominate. The boss takes it all in, affirming some positions and countering others. The meeting goes circular, covering a lot of ground but making no progress.
Often, there is someone who’s saying nothing. The group hardly notices.
Finally, when it seems like the discussion is at a dead end, the “quiet one” speaks, connecting the dots and providing the clarity the group has missed. Relief!
When everyone walks out of the room, those crucial words and their speaker get remembered.
Make that person YOU
In case you don’t remember your Shakespeare, Polonius said, in his lengthy comments about Hamlet to the king and queen, “…brevity is the soul of wit.” Unfortunately, Polonius didn’t follow his own advice, but we should if we want career success.
There is often the misconception that being the dominant voice in a meeting is how we demonstrate our expertise and commitment. We may think that talking a lot:
- Gets us points with the boss (like class participation in high school)
- Means we will be seen as “bought in” (whether we are or not)
- Takes the pressure off our coworkers (especially those who don’t understand the issues)
- Deflects decision-making and change (particularly ones no one wants)
- Inflates the boss’s sense that we’re a solid team (whether or not that’s so)
In truth, if you want to stand out, say just enough and make it valuable!
State insights, concisely
If we want to have influence, we have to earn it. That means developing a reputation for being able to distill input into clear statements that can be acted upon.
Ideally, you want the people you meet with to be eager to hear what you have to say. When they learn that you only speak after you’ve considered all the input, each time you open your mouth, they’ll listen. The more often you do that successfully, the more influence you’ll gain.
Achieving this takes intellectual discipline. You don’t need to be the smartest person at the table, just the clearest thinking and most concise.
Here are a few techniques that can position you to be that clear, crisp voice at precisely right moment:
- State or restate the problem: Discussions often get out of control because no one has clearly stated the problem or issue upfront. That gives everyone license to go off in any direction. So, after a time, raise your hand and state the issue everyone is there to resolve. Use your moment to add your own idea and refocus everyone else.
- Synthesize ideas: Often important information and perspectives are expressed, but no one sees the connection between them. That’s when you take your moment to simply state how the pieces fit together.
- Summarize key points: After protracted discussion, there will be a time when everyone feels overwhelmed by the mounds of information on the table. That’s when you can relieve their mental exhaustion by presenting a point-by-point summation of the ground that has been covered.
- Simplify: Even though issues may be complex, their basis usually isn’t. When you see that discussion is getting bogged down in details, refresh everyone’s perspective (and motivation) by focusing them on the desired outcomes and the benefits expected.
The power of influence
We can only make a difference if others listen to our ideas and act on them. A few right words at the right time around the right people can make a big difference in your career. Choose well and own your moment.
Photo from Horasis via Flickr