ARTICLE 7: “My Team Members Have Different Personality Styles, So In Meetings Some Speak Up And Some Don’t – That’s OK”

There are also those on the team that are great ‘people people.’ These types, too, have their functional or operational expertise. The focus for them, however, is on getting everyone involved. Being the natural ‘motivator’ of the team – the glue which binds everyone together. In a reasonable number of cases, this high level of enthusiasm and ‘motivation’ can be perceived as too gregarious and over the top for some.

Do you recognise that type within your team? These are the people who at team meetings fill the silence. They are the ones who always seem to have a contribution to make to a group discussion. Possibly they interrupt, frequently maybe, when others are speaking. You get the picture.

At times, these people can be valuable in a meeting environment when you are seeking input. The downside can be significant though. Why?

For a team to be high-performing, every member needs to be involved. Not necessarily in the same ‘quantity’ but certainly in similar quality. The problem arises when those of us who are more outgoing with our behaviour don’t let others get a word in edgewise! This can be most obvious in the meeting situation.

There you are, having learned all there is to know about situational leadership (or some other model) and you take a collaborative approach with a given meeting topic. You want everyone’s input – that, after all, is what the model teaches in this type of scenario. You ask the team for their input. The ones who are most likely to speak up are those that feel most comfortable doing so in that situation. These are the people mentioned above who sometimes even go as far as to say something just to ‘be heard.’ The contribution is made although it is not always as valuable as you, the manager, would like. Those that feel less comfortable will say less – worse still, they’ll say nothing. And it’s not because they have nothing to say or don’t ‘get it.’

This has two major impacts.

One is that you will obviously not have their input, and yet their contribution (if they felt comfortable enough to give it) would be most valuable. Often those of us who are more ‘considered’ in our input will produce an absolute gem of an idea or contribution. Yet so often it doesn’t get heard.

The second impact is that the others in the team perceive that the quiet ones have nothing of value to add. More than that, they may have the idea that the quiet colleague actually doesn’t understand the situation. Or doesn’t know how to solve the problem being put forward.

When I was a medical representative many years ago with Sanofi, my manager at the time pointed this trait out. It was part of my behaviour and can still be if I didn’t know how to change it when needed.

Maureen (my manager) said, “Malcolm, when we work together in the field one-to-one, you have some great ideas and contributions to make. It’s odd then that when we are in the team meetings you say nothing.” She continued, “People in the team will think you don’t know anything if you don’t speak up.”

She was right, and yet how often do you see this in meetings you attend either with your team or others. We all need to contribute and as the one responsible for high-performing teams, you need to bring out the best in all your people. Unless they understand how to do that, no amount of you telling them will change their behaviour.

Of course, if the ‘quieter’ ones make little or no contribution in a meeting, there is always someone who will fill the silence. Well, most of the time anyway.

There is a vicious cycle which is set up. The quiet ones say nothing so those who feel more comfortable in the group setting speak up even more. This further exacerbates the lack of input by the quiet members of the team. They perceive those with more to say never leave a gap in the conversation long enough for the quiet ones to say anything. So they don’t!

The ‘Know-It-All’
The other thing that then happens is that those who appear to always have something to say get known as ‘loud,’ ‘know-it-all,’ ‘egotistical,’ and ‘liking the sound of their own voice.’ I could go on but I am sure you recognise these phrases and more which you’ve heard in your own workplace. This situation then also becomes a vicious cycle. Those who say nothing continue to say nothing, and those who don’t want a silence will say more. Even if there is nothing really to add.

Now you have the situation in the team where you think it’s okay for the quiet ones to carry on with no input. Behind your back, they are fuming and probably telling others that you don’t stop the ‘loud’ ones from speaking out all the time.

And guess what? The ‘loud’ people are talking behind your back telling others that the quiet ones don’t know what they are talking about and that they make no contribution in team meetings.

It can get to the point where, in extreme cases, the more vocal individual is seen as arrogant or big-headed because they just don’t ‘shut up’! That doesn’t help anyone. The truth is, these people aren’t doing this to annoy their colleagues. I don’t believe anyone gets up in the morning and thinks to themselves ‘who can I really annoy today.’ The fact is they do it unwittingly.

This can lead to other issues. I have seen situations where those with the loudest voices – or more accurately described as those with more direct influencing behaviours – get given certain tasks over those who say least. They appear to know more – the reality is that they don’t. Well, certainly not just because they speak up more.

There is of, course, the other situation where the team is made up of many more direct people. What can be observed in these cases is that more than one person speaks at the same time. They not only interrupt each other but also actually talk over the other person. The consequence of that is nobody really listens. How can you when more than one person is speaking?

Maybe you recognise some of these things happening with your team. You need to get the whole team to understand each other, their preferences in communication and how to become a high-performing collaborative team. No verbal boxing or hard control measures, just excellent, balanced contributions from all team members.