After years in the “working world,” I’ve learned one of the core tenets of communicating in a group: before speaking, always first convince yourself of what you’re about to say. Always remember that you are Audience Number 1.
From my experience working in tech for the last five years, I’ve noticed two kinds of people at meetings:
- Those who listen attentively and only speak after thinking thoroughly and clearly
- Those who listen lightly and speak without enough thought
People in Group 1 tend to:
- admit to themselves and the group that they are guessing and could be wrong, or provide other forms of hedging
- formulate questions, opinions, and answers precisely before speaking
- understand that a meeting is almost always more effective with punctuated silences that allow thinking before speaking - a positive feedback loop
People in Group 2 tend to:
- argue the tiniest points in a bid to assert intellectual dominance
- not admit even to themselves that they don’t know something, or know it as well as they should before speaking about it with a degree of assertion
- formulate questions, opinions, and answers as they speak, causing more confusion than progress, which leads to more questions - a negative feedback loop
I prefer working with people in Group 1, because speaking during a meeting is a blocking operation. In non-programming parlance, what I mean is that when you speak, everyone can do nothing else but listen.
If everybody preferred shooting their mouths over listening carefully and speaking only when they are convinced that what they are about to say is somewhat coherent and potentially value-adding to the topic, a meeting can easily spiral out of focus. It usually devolves into a cringey match of Who’s Brain (Or Dick) Is The Biggest.
Nowadays whenever I find myself in this situation (rarely, luckily), I turn off my video camera and mute myself as a way to refuse the legitimacy of the contest.
I believe the solution lies in the indiviudal. No well-respected person can change this dynamic. When it comes to people’s behaviour, we can only provide feedback.
To make sure I always convince myself before I speak, I mentally ask myself these questions before speaking, be it sharing relevant data, an opinion, or suggesting an idea:
- Is this directly relevant to the topic we’re meeting to discuss?
- Is this important to bring this up, or is it trivial?
- Is this relevant to everyone, or just one or two people? If the latter, take it up separately.
- Do I know what I’m about to say? Or have I just read it somewhere recently, and due to the mere-exposure effect, mistakenly think that I understand it or have become unreasonably fond of it due to familiarity?
If everyone used a checklist that resembles the one above, more meetings would be pleasant and — get this — end on time.
Here’s to better group communications. 🍻