Leaders can encourage better meeting participation and idea exploration by saying less and asking better questions, writes BTS Associate Director Luba Koziy. “There’s certainly a place for adding ideas and information yourself, but leaders are best positioned to actively listen and then point out the common themes emerging from the group,” she writes.
Have you ever been in a meeting where the moment the leader in the room speaks up, the conversation becomes completely reoriented around their opinions and talking points?
That happened to us recently when one of the individuals at the company we were coaching took a strong stance about a particular component of the initiative we were working on. It transformed the entire conversation. Instead of encouraging dissent or discussion, this leader created an environment where everyone was looking to her first to gauge their own reactions.
It probably feels like your job as a leader is to speak up first and set the tone for the conversation. But that tends to create “groupthink” where the rest of the discussion is set on course by the first person to speak confidently and loudly.
We’re inundated with so many opinions every day that we can’t expect any one person to have all the answers. Now more than ever, leaders have to engage the collective intelligence of their teams and invite a diversity of perspectives into meeting rooms. Here’s how:
1. Don’t drop an anchor
A group tends to latch onto the first thing said in a meeting. That’s one reason the outspoken individual’s comment was so persuasive — it created an anchor that the rest of the conversation circled around. Whether the point was valid doesn’t really matter; it prevailed simply because it dropped first. What follows an anchor is a series of adjustments: Each subsequent comment inevitably relates to the anchor comment, until everyone reaches a compromised solution. This is also known as the “anchoring and adjustment” mental heuristic.
If you’re in a position to drop an anchor, don’t. Sit back and give others the time to form their own opinions and space to express them. Even better, speaking first to invite another individual to contribute to the conversation makes sure everyone can chime in and defend their thoughts, thus fostering diversity of opinion.
Speaking last as an authority figure can do wonders for your team’s sense of accountability and ownership; you’re reacting to the points they’ve made, rather than anchoring them to your own.