“Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”
If you have been watching Hemingway on PBS, or if you know his essay Hills Like White Elephants, you might recognize this quote. It’s a woman to a man.
I know there is a danger in categorical judgments but I’m going to make one because this is something that I have seen over and over again in my meetings. Men tend to talk more. Women tend to defer more.
I bet that if you tracked the data in the last 100 meetings that I have been in……looked at the proportion of men and women in those meetings and the proportion of time spent talking by each gender, you would find that a disproportional amount of the time is dominated by men.
If your goal in the meeting is to get your way — to get the whole group to affirm what you already know to be true, without even having to hear from anybody else — then interrupt others and dominate the airtime. That’s a good strategy for that goal. But if your goal is for the group to make a good decision with the best available information and the very best chances of implementation due to buy-in, then spend more time listening and less time talking. Make room for everyone.
Now if you’re a man you might be thinking, “Well, if a woman doesn’t speak up that’s her fault; it’s her responsibility.” I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a shared responsibility. Your part is to yield space. Her part is to speak up.
If you are a man about to make a comment — you know exactly what you want to say and you’re about to jump in — I’m encouraging you to pause, look around the room, especially at the women in the room, and give a chance for one of those women to take your turn.
And I must add, there is something uneasy about asking my fellow men to give over space to women because it comes with a presumption that the space is defacto ours in the first place, to be conceded. A woman actually doesn’t need my permission or concession to speak. The space among us is not defacto mine to control.