How to be heard when people won’t shut up

A colleague asked me how to get a word in edgewise when a group won’t shut up, even for a second.  It happens in business, and sometimes at parties… so many people who are anxious to share their point of view and don’t mind being loud and aggressively dominating the discussion.

I have one trick that works for me.

After I have listened long enough to know that I have something valuable to add to the conversation, I do NOT try to shout my point as soon as there is a moment of dead air. Instead, I raise my hand and say “Would you like my opinion?” And then I wait, silently.

By Kindergarten, most people learn that a raised hand means you are requesting a chance to speak. Even those with minimal manners will eventually feel uncomfortable about me sitting there with my hand up and something potentially valuable to hear. The meeting host (or self-appointed foreperson) will finally relent and ask ‘David, you have something to say?’ Then the room gets eerily quiet and the stage is mine.

Now you better have something worthwhile to say when called on, or this trick may not work the next time. Depending on the discussion, you can also come across as more of a collaborator if you phrase your point in the form of a question to the group and not as a declaration of fact.  Start with “Would it make sense if…” or “How would the team feel if we tried…”.

This even works in WebEx meetings. I will speak or text chat my question to the whole group or press the Raise Hand button and wait. If you turn your video camera on, the host can even tell you are trying to participate by your body language. And the best trick of all… volunteer to take notes and share your desktop for the whole group. Then you instantly become part of the conversation because you are transcribing (and editing) live.

Being heard in a group of vocal people is not impossible. And if you don’t have anything to contribute, that’s OK too. The good listener is often the smartest person in the room.

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2 Comments on “How to be heard when people won’t shut up”

  1. Nora Says:

    I was at a contentious neighborhood meeting last night and the raised hand trick combined with silence until called on came in handy. Didn’t stop folks from trying to talk over me, but I felt better!


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