Thinking Out Loud!
No, not the Ed Sheeran song:-) but some really useful feedback from a good colleague of mine; and, some practical tips I’d like to share…
I’m very comfortable sharing my thoughts, ideas and opinions with colleagues. Why not? Everyone’s views have merit. Just because I say something, doesn’t mean it’s my firmly held belief, or a fixed position. We’re having a discussion right? I say what I think, you say what you think, we can agree, disagree, and between us develop even better ideas. Right?
Well, it depends…
If you are a more reflective person, you might want time to think, develop your thoughts, and evolve an idea, before sharing it. Actually that sounds like quite a good approach!
Except that often in the workplace, in meetings full of people like me, you won’t get a word in edgeways, and your colleagues will probably believe that you didn’t have anything to contribute anyway. “Just speak up!”
A few years ago, I worked with a just such a colleague – Carl. He (carefully collected his thoughts and arguments, and) explained to me that he used to believe that all these talkative people were more decisive, quicker-thinkers than he was. But he came to realise that we were going though the same thought processes as him, only OUT LOUD! Couldn’t we see the impact this behaviour has on others? How domineering and obstructive to idea-generation and good decisions? If we’re not trying to dominate the discussion and impose our views, and we want to learn and develop better ideas by sharing with others, we need to stop transmitting sometimes, and take time to receive.
“It was impossible to get a conversation going; everyone was talking too much.”
In order to get the benefit of everyone’s contribution, there needs to be some peace and quiet, to gather one’s thoughts and listen to others. “Time to Think” – Nancy Kline
I have applied what I learned from Carl and Nancy, whenever I have the opportunity to shape a discussion item at a meeting. Here’s how:
- Introduce the issue for discussion ~ sometimes there will be an information paper disseminated in advance, sometimes just an interesting proposition, or question to consider.
- Ask everyone to take 3-5 minutes to think about the issue, in SILENCE (which is anathema to managers who love to come to meetings to talk!) and jot down a few notes.
- Allow everyone to share their views and suggestions on the issue, and for everyone else to KEEP QUIET – don’t agree, disagree, interrupt, laugh, sneer, nod approvingly, or anything else. Just LISTEN. (This can take some firm chairing of the meeting:-)
- Only when everyone has had time to think, shared their thoughts, and listened to others, do we open up the debate and draw some conclusions.
When I do this, I immediately note down the first 2 or 3 things that come into my head ~ “I don’t need 5 minutes!” But then, as I take that time to think, my ideas develop and become the richer for it. And because I’m not Thinking Out Loud, I am allowing other people to develop and enhance their ideas, too.
This is especially valuable when you have a mixed group of people, some of whom might consider themselves more junior, less experienced, or less knowledgeable, than their colleagues. EVERY time I do this, I find that someone comes up with different angle, or idea which significantly enhances the debate: often from those that bring a different or new perspective – exactly those people who might not have said anything in the usual meeting free-for-all.
We avoid the common problem of polarisation and two-way debate between the parties who are quickest off their mark to share their thoughts and disagree with each other – backwards and forwards, not getting us anywhere. Which also means we get many more ideas and suggestions in less time.
So better engagement, better ideas, better decisions and in less time!