by Achim Nowak

The Line Between TOO OFTEN and NOT ENOUGH

September 10, 2023

I don’t want to be one of those people who talk too much. Don’t want to repeat what someone else has said. Don’t want to upstage more senior members of the team.

I have heard it all. Reasons why we silence ourselves at an Executive Meeting.

Let’s get this straight: Someone has decided that you deserve a seat at the table at your company’s most senior decision-making body. You ARE a member of the team. And you choose to get coy?

Coy gets you nothing.

Your concerns about mis-stepping in this forum are, of course, valid. You’ve watched colleagues crash and burn when they carry on for too long, over-heat with emotion, and don’t feel the pulse of the room.

Too often/not enough.

Claiming our rightful voice in a circle of power brokers can often feel daunting and elusive.

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms."

Zen Shin

He doesn’t always know when to speak up, says Sophie, the French CEO of a global micro-chip manufacturer, about her protégé Massimo as we chat last month. There is a right moment for making your point, and when you miss that moment, it may not come back. Massimo often misses the moment, and when he jumps in, he leads with his emotions, not with strategic clarity.

You may be surprised at just how often the too often/not enough dilemma shows up in my Executive Coaching conversations. Otherwise self-assured individuals crumble in the face of the murky power dynamics of an Executive Team. Most of these individuals err on the side of under-communicating. Their under-communication serves no one.

Consider the following guidelines as you assess what too often/not enough looks like for you in your executive interactions:

Don’t miss the moment.

As the team dives into a topic, as a discussion takes shape, as you feel the urge to state your point-of-view bubble up – notice. Notice the Gestalt of the conversation. Notice the direction of the conversation. Notice your desire to chime in. What are you waiting for?

Wait another 30 seconds or a minute, and a thought that felt right will suddenly seem like a tangent. A perspective that could have shaped the conversation becomes a distraction.

Catch the moment when your instincts nudge you to contribute. Trust those instincts. Jump. Deliver your perspective clearly and succinctly. Then cede conversational space to others.

Silence is not an option.

Occasional strategic silence in a meeting can be a brilliant move. You stay out of the fray. You implicitly allow others to run with the proverbial ball.

Be clear, however: Show up repeatedly in hour-long Executive Meetings without contributing, and you have rendered yourself irrelevant. Whatever your inner chatter tells you about staying silent – ditch it. Your role is not to be a demure quiet presence. Your role is to actively advance productive conversations.

In case of doubt, manage yourself differently. Set a concrete participation goal. I will speak up at least 3 times during this meeting. While this may seem like a somewhat arbitrary goal without context, guess what – you will suddenly find more moments when you can meaningfully contribute. You will have unsilenced yourself. Wonderful.

Be a great supporting player.

No need to always be the star of the show. You know – the one who advances great ideas, fresh thinking, status-quo-challenges. Don’t wish to be that person in a meeting? Cool. You will at times wield greater influence by stepping into the role of robust supporting player. A supporting player validates another person’s suggestion. Expounds on that suggestion with additional data or anecdotal information. Connects the dots between a suggestion and other suggestions in the discussion space.

The supporting player ends up being a bridge-builder. Decision-making-accelerator. This is powerful stuff. We don’t get to play this role by being silent or questioning if we “should support.” No - we just do it.

When a topic is done, shut up.

Each topic has its own life cycle. Intensity of conversation grows. Peaks. Interest fizzles. The group is ready to move on.

Sense the cycle of a topic. Sense the energy that exists in favor of a topic or against it. Don’t be that annoying person who doesn’t know when to quit. Hammers away at a point that has already been made once too often. Doesn’t understand that some things are not negotiable. When you don’t notice the life cycle, you have become the way-too-often person. And the person with way-too-little influence. Notice – and shut up.

Most importantly, understand the decision game in your orbit. Most decisions are NOT made in meetings. They have been made BEFORE the meeting. The meeting is merely a social dance we perform to publicly align around the inevitable. Misunderstand this, and you have abdicated much of your influence.

Want to be part of the pre-meeting decisions? Hold lobbying conversations with key stakeholders prior to a meeting. In these conversations, you will have way more time to advance your point-of-view than you ever get when the Executive Team meets. You will be more thoroughly heard. How cool is that!

Too often/not enough. Now/later/not at all.

That is the dance of the Executive Meeting, isn’t it? The split-second decisions we make, moment by moment, as a team congregates.

Trust your instincts. Don’t over-talk - and know that habitual silence is not an option.

Ever, ever, ever.

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