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Many people are justifiably afraid to speak up in meetings [Youngblood, 1995].

Have you wondered why some workers dominate the conversation? Interestingly, their contributions are inversely proportional to their speech (which predictably revolves around themselves). Bravado is a substitute for what they don’t have – real achievements, and an appreciation for other people. Peers subjected to their mindless prattle feel helpless when cohorts behave like tyrants. Youngblood (2000) describes the typical format:

“In meetings, people interrupt and talk over each other with no intention of really understanding each other. Extroverted personalities dominate and introverts, who often have valuable insights, rarely speak. People from different hierarchical levels rarely have meaningful interactions of any kind.”

Bullies pontificate about matters that have zero chance of advancing the agenda or solving the problem. Domineering types create groupthink, in which members feel compelled (even coerced) to accept the dominant party’s view. The bully’s objective is to be center stage, and to experience the folding of his/her peers as they jump on board his bandwagon.

How much more pleasant it would be if everyone got a fair shake, if they were respected, revered, heard, if they felt their opinions mattered? Southwest Airlines suggests the following reward regarding input:

“When employees feel they are being treated humanely, when they receive legendary service, they provide the kind of customer service for which Southwest Airlines is so well known for service that makes customers come back again and again. The heroism and passion with which they work translated into exceptional customer service” (Freiberg & Freiberg, 1995).

Diverse contributors can be a magical combination. In their book Synchronicity, Jaworski and Flowers (1998) explain the synergy that’s possible when posturing is factored from the exchange:

“The flow of connection built and built. Each statement, each point, each story dovetailed and reinforced another. It was like the weaving of an intricate and beautiful tapestry – as if they were speaking by design – but of course there was no prior rehearsal. And you could feel the whole room fall into this symphony of conversation.”

Because the preservation of worker’s dignity plays such a large part in company profit, it behooves organizations to ensure democratic participation. Better yet, pull the dominant party aside and talk to hi/her about letting other people take their turn. Pearson and Porath describe a practice in which meeting participants on the brink of bad behavior receive a yellow card (warning), while those who’ve violated group norms (or who’ve trampled a colleague) receive a red card. Emotional intelligence can be learned.

I think we would all be better off if we simply remembered the lessons learned in kindergarten – compliments of Robert Fulghum:

Share everything.

  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life.
  • Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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