Some people can be awfully quiet in a group. In meetings they sit there and don’t say a word. If you invite them to say something, they look uncomfortable that you are talking to them. As a person who leads a lot of meetings, I’m often unsure about how best to involve these quiet ones without being disrespectful. I try anyway.
Here’s the approach I usually take when faced with people who are noticeably quiet. It involves five steps, taken in order.
- Observe to figure out what I can about them. I’m trying to determine if they are engaged or not. I want to consider if perhaps they are remaining quiet in reaction to an intimidating or highly verbal group. I might try to gauge their emotional state.
- Call on them subtly and see if they respond. I might subtly direct a question to them using eye contact or a hand gesture. If they choose to ignore my subtle invitation, I can move to someone else without calling lots of unwanted attention to this person’s choice to not respond.
- Call on the person by name. The trick here is to ask a fairly simple question for which there is no wrong answer. Preference questions work great. Suppose the group is debating two options, you could say something like, “Joe, which option are you leaning towards at this point and why?”
- If nothing seems to be working, I would normally talk to the person in private at a break or after the meeting. I would express my desire for everyone to share his ideas, share my observation about his lack of involvement, and then try to engage him in a conversation about reasons for his silence and ideas for helping him be more engaged in future discussions.
- My last course of action is to remind myself that everyone is different and just because someone isn’t talking doesn’t mean the person isn’t engaged and may even be contributing to the meeting in some way that I cannot recognize. If he has something to say and wants it said, he can and will make the choice to say it.
If you’ve tried without success or are anticipating a really challenging group, it might be time to bring in a facilitator to lead the meeting. We’d be happy to help.
Photo by Billy Rowlinson