Big talk = big competence? Unfortunately, not always
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Big talk = big competence? Unfortunately, not always

We’ve all had the experience: During a meeting, a critical issue is raised or an important question asked, and one attendee loudly, authoritatively and confidently states her opinion. The room goes silent, and everyone can practically be heard thinking, “Well, if she’s THAT sure of it, she must be right.”

Only problem is, there’s very little correlation between confidence on one hand and actual expertise or knowledge on the other. So shows new research published by professors at Idaho State University and the University of Utah’s business school who have spent years studying group dynamics.

Modulating those loud voices
The implication: Managers need to come up with tactics for handling their “loudmouths” — the dominating employees who are happy to tell everybody what they think and even what everybody else ought to think.

This tendency can be particularly damaging in meetings, where the vocally confident, or confidently vocal, may completely drown out the very people — less outspoken but more knowledgeable — whose views might be the most valuable.

Steps to take
Bryan Bonner, a professor of organizational management at Utah who is one of the study’s co-authors, suggests three preventive measures that managers can take to keep those big talkers in their place. Before the meeting, try one or more of these steps:

  • Send out materials for people to read. This will give quieter, more deliberate attendees time to assimilate the information and organize ideas that they might feel hesitant to give otherwise in the meeting.
  • Approach the person or people who usually talk the most and ask for their help, along these lines: “I’ve noticed that Person A and/or Person B don’t contribute much at our meetings. I wonder if you’d help me out by talking to him/them during the meeting and encouraging them to speak up.
  • Approach that person or people like this: “You always contribute important insights, but I feel as if the others aren’t pitching in enough. I think it would help if you’d save your comments until everybody else has had a chance to say something. But don’t worry, I won’t let the meeting end without hearing from you.”

You can also vary your technique during the meeting. You could, for instance, go systematically “around the table” to get feedback, rather than opening up the floor to all comers, an approach that favors the more vocal attendees.

Source: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, November 2013.

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