“Silence is acquiescence”
Working with other people is not easy. Many organizations rely on teams to accomplish tasks. This means many of us spend between 35% – 50% of our time with others just figuring things out. More time is spent interacting to get things done. What happens when someone you work with drives you crazy? The list of offenses is endless. Common complaints about co-workers include that people are lazy, rude, have a bad attitude, that they can’t be trusted and they don’ know what they are doing. Often we put up with bad behavior and say nothing, because we don’t want to rock the boat. Finally one day when the offender bothers us, we blow up and let them have it.
In a workshop a participant said she was ready to tell a co-worker to shut the hell up. I asked why? She said the co-worker, affectionately referred to as Motor-Mouth (MM) monopolized meeting time. When other people tried to share ideas the participant swore that MM would interrupt, judge, shut down or generally take over the meeting.
“What are you going to do?” I asked. She said she had decided she was going to put MM in her place. I asked some questions. Is it possible that MM talks because no one else does? Is it possible that some meeting topics affect her job role more than others? Does she really have any idea the impact she is having on you and the rest of the team? The participant pondered these questions. My coaching was to give feedback in a way that was not rude or insulting. I encouraged the participant to give feedback to MM so that she might actually be able to consider it.
I recommend the I Message model. It is composed of three parts:
- When you…. Specific behaviour
- I feel…. The emotion you experience during the behavior
- Because… the tangible effect it has on you
So to give an I Message to MM, a format is:
- When you speak during meetings
- I feel frustrated
- Because the time is short and when you speak frequently it minimizes other people’s time to contribute
Isn’t this approach much more respectful and specific than “Shut the hell up!?”
I also recommend that before you actually share your perspective, start by sharing your intention. When you share your intention it gives others a heads up about what to expect. In this case a workable intent could be to approach the talker and share:
I would like to speak to you about something that I think is impacting the effectiveness of our meetings. I would like to give you some feedback that would help me get more out of meeting and that could benefit others. Do you have time to talk?
Then you can share the I Message.
Once you have shared the I Message you can continue the conversation in one of two ways. If you know what you would like in terms of behavioural change, you can ask for it. Something like: what I would appreciate is if you could ensure that other people around the table get a chance to talk. So if you wait for one or two other people to talk before you speak again – everyone including me would get a chance to contribute at meetings.
None of us like to be told what to do, so I also recommend that you ask, What do you think about this situation? Be ready to be an excellent listener. You have only shared your perspective. But you are only part of the equation. Now it is important to give the other person a chance to share their perspective. In this case, MM may say she was totally unaware of the issue. Or, you may find that she explains why she talks as much as she does. If people can listen to the feedback and consider it – they often come up with their own solutions.
For feedback to be successful, it needs to be two-way. It is not fair to expect others to change their behaviour when we do not tell them what is on our mind in a respectful way. People are not psychic. We need to communicate and be open to give and receive feedback as we work with others.