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How to Have Productive Meetings with Chatty People


disrupted meetings

Why are some people so chatty?

Maybe it’s nerves. Or narcissism. Some just love to talk.

Or maybe this rambling explanation of the difference between all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta has a life-altering moral waiting at the end of it.

Whatever the case, this talkative client or colleague has your meeting by the horns. Resistance seems futile. Time slogs wastefully by. It’s another unproductive meeting, abducted by pointless chatter.

But wait!

What if there was a way to save your meetings from the wrath of the rambler? What if you knew how to prevent meaningless gab from ever entering the conversation in the first place?

Believe it. You can have productive meetings with chatty people. Here’s how:

1.  Have objectives, and be explicit about them.

“It’s time to call a meeting,” you think.

Are you sure?

First, ask yourself what you want accomplished by the time you hang up the phone or walk out of the room. A meeting without clear objectives is an open playing field for chatty people.

As New York Times contributor Reid Hastie suggests:

“Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives. This means specifying tangible goals and assigning responsibility for creating, summarizing, and reporting on them.”

Having clear objectives from the start provides a firm context for what’s acceptable to talk about during the meeting. Yes, even the most garrulous of people have a conversation filter. Use your objectives to remind everybody to stay focused.

2.  Set the time frame.

Time flies for chatty people amidst their long-winded descriptions of the taste of fresh trout and seeing Cirque de Soleil for the first time. So it’s a big shocker when the stories end and, “Oh gosh, it’s 3:30 already?”

That’s why it doesn’t hurt to remind them—and everybody else in the meeting—how much time they have to accomplish your objectives.

It’s important to have a successful meeting. With a clearly stated time frame, you get meeting structure and urgency everyone can appreciate, without making you look like an evil dictator.

3.  Provide a “parking lot.”

Nobody likes to be ignored. So when a chatty person introduces something completely off-topic during a meeting, don’t brush it aside. Assign it to the “parking lot.”

The parking lot is the place where you put items that come up during a meeting that are not on its agenda. Designate an attendee to record these items. At the end of the meeting, review the items and assess action steps for each.

The parking lot helps you moderate extraneous opinions and ideas without cutting them down. Remember, the chatty meeting attendee likes to talk. Keep the jabber positive, not resentful.

4.  Be a mirror.

The most aggravating quality of the rambler is his complete ignorance of how boring and irrelevant his ramblings are.

So show him your pain. Use active listening to be a mirror.  Here’s how:

When the rambler dips into a story you fear has no meaning for your meeting, don’t tune it out. Listen to every word. Stay present in the conversation.

Wait for lulls/breathes/pauses to summarize what you believe you hear the rambler saying. Ask for confirmation of your interpretation. Let your summary speak for its relevancy to the meeting and to the rest of the people in the room.

It’s a powerful technique, and it takes practice. For more tips, check out Forbes’ “10 Steps to Effective Listening.”

5.  Get over your fear of interrupting.

Interrupting people is rude—or so we’ve been raised to believe.

Today, I invite you to interrupt the excessive rambler during your next conference call or boardroom meeting. It doesn’t have to be rude; you can be downright polite. Here’s an example:

“I apologize for interrupting you, but we have a few more points to cover before we end off this meeting.”

Simple. Classy.  And if the rambler insists on continuing, assign the topic to the parking lot.

You’ve taken the time to structure the meeting with clear objectives and a time frame for accomplishing your goals. When a rambler takes off on an unrelated tangent, that’s the rude behavior. You have the right to reclaim focus.

With these tips, having a productive meeting with a rambler is as easy as scheduling and hosting a conference call. Now, when it comes to dinner parties and family gatherings, you’re on your own.

Peter Doan is Vast Conference's customer service lead and dedicated account manager. With 10-plus years of experience, he's a customer service superstar and a regular contributor here.

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