During the question and answer period after a recent speech to the SCNetwork, I was asked how to handle a person who dominates team discussions.
This is a situation that many people face, so I thought I would share my original answer (see the video) and a few additional thoughts with you here on the Change Your Team community.
Click here to view it on YouTube.
Address the Over-contributor
Start with the assumption that the person is trying to add value and they are unaware how their contributions are overwhelming the team. Being nasty about it is only going to create an adversarial dynamic that won’t help anyone.
- Provide some feedback. Follow the instructions for giving feedback and share something such as “in our weekly team meetings, when you provide input a second or third time before others have provided their preliminary thoughts, it shuts out other perspectives that we need to make a balanced decision. How could you make more room for other points of view?”
- Highlight the value the person does bring, and therefore, make it clear what he doesn’t. “Bob, you’ve provided great insight about the operational lens on this issue.” This way, you are validating his contribution while opening the door for other, different views.
- Seek out different perspectives. If your talkative teammate is covering the issue from one perspective, call out the other contrasting perspectives that might be valuable. “Who can talk about this from the finance perspective?”
Address the Under-contributors
You make a critical mistake if you put all the blame for an unbalanced dynamic at the feet of the dominant individual. Accountability for uneven contributions needs to be shared with the people who keep quiet or cede their turn to speak as soon as the over-exuberant person opens his mouth.
- Be explicit about the importance of hearing everyone’s point of view, or at least of making room for different angles on the same issue. Set the expectation at the beginning of a discussion that everyone should add their full value. That will encourage the more reserved team members to contribute.
- Provide feedback. It’s interesting that we tend to focus our constructive feedback on errors of commission, when errors of omission can be just as important. Try saying “Gwen, when we are conducting a project review and you don’t speak up, we miss the call center perspective and that means we keep repeating the same mistakes. What would be helpful for you in getting your perspectives into the discussion?”
- Use open-ended questions that invite participation from those who are less forthcoming. “What aren’t we thinking about?” “Who hasn’t yet weighed in on this?” “Jacques, what do you expect your team would say about this plan?”
You might be quick to judge the people you see as aggressive, dominant, or over-contributing. You are probably less apt to spread the accountability to the people who fail to add value. Teams are complex and creating a healthy and productive dynamic is the responsibility of everyone on the team.
If you’re over-contributing, be more mindful of how frequently you speak and for how long. Pull back so that you are only taking up your fair share of the conversation. If you’re the one feeling silenced or shut out of the discussion—get in the game! You might need to stand your ground if someone talks over you, or be direct about it being your turn. Whatever works, take responsibility for your own contribution.
And if you think you’re getting it about right, then lend some help in gently facilitating the conversation and being the one to give the feedback about others who are under- or over-contributing.
Everyone has a role to play in balancing the contributions on your team.