It’s overly harsh to refer to meeting participants as a waste of space, but if they aren’t contributing or learning—assuming that’s the point—then they shouldn’t be in your meeting. I can’t imagine booting someone from the meeting in the middle of it. That would be humiliating and just plain wrong. The obvious answer is to not invite them in the first place.
So how do you engage them?
Not participating is not okay
You’ll first need to define the problem and why it matters. It could be as simple as this. There are people in this meeting who aren’t contributing in any visible way. This creates a problem, because they are being paid for doing nothing. That is a poor use of organizational resources.
Second, their lack of participation may be dampening the participation levels of others. A more crowded room is a more intimidating environment in which to speak. Also, while they may not be talking, it’s assumed they are listening and possibly judging. They need to engage or be gone.
Why aren’t they talking?
Solving a problem, once it’s defined, starts by understanding why the problem is happening. So let’s consider possible explanations for their lack of participation:
- They aren’t well-enough informed to contribute.
- They feel intimidated by others in the room.
- Others are dominating, and they just can’t work their way into the conversation.
- They don’t care about the topic.
- They are tired.
- They are stressed.
- They are ____________. (Fill in the blank with dozens of other possibilities.)
When I lead a meeting and notice people who aren’t engaged, I make my best guess based on what I can observe and what I know about the person. Based on that guess, I then use one of three options.
Help them get in on the conversation
If the room is filled with people who know how to grab and keep a conversation, you may need to stop them for a moment and give this person a chance to play via a simple comment like, “Let’s hear from some folks we haven’t heard from yet. What are your thoughts on this, Erin?” In this situation, it’s about managing the environment to make it easier.
Draw them out
Sometimes the person is more than capable of jumping in on the conversation but chooses not to. In these cases, I draw him out by directing the conversation to him. One way to accomplish this is to set up quick polls where I work my way around the room to ask people to each share an opinion. This is good because they won’t feel picked on and yet sense some pressure to say something. This technique works particularly well for phone meetings. It’s almost a requirement in that format, so that someone doesn’t just put the phone on mute and spend an hour playing video games.
Talk to them in private
If they look tired, you might help them out by calling a quick break. Get them up and moving. In private, you can say to the person, “Looks like you are having a hard time staying tuned in to this meeting. Am I reading things right? How can I help?”
Make it better
A lack of participation is an easy meeting problem to overlook. It’s a problem nonetheless. One that you ought to help solve.
This post is an excerpt from my book, Meeting Hero. Pick up your copy today to learn what to do with those people who dominate every conversation, those who spew non-stop negativity, and those with a story that takes you hopelessly off track. Plus plenty of others.
Image credit: Kathy via Flickr (cc)