Leaders – Is talking too much getting in your way?

| 24 March 2023

We’d all like to think that we encourage our team and colleagues to speak up and to be heard. And yet it’s so easy to unintentionally close people down. We think we know the answer or have the solution. We assume we know what the other person means rather than asking. Or we ‘don’t have time’ to give air space to other views or opinions.

When I see leaders talking too much it’s often because they think they’re being helpful. But in fact, they’re often causing more confusion.

Here are a couple of examples:

Team member – ‘I think we need to do some work on helping people understand our values a bit more and what they look like in practice’.

Leader – ‘I disagree – it’s not a priority right now’.
Conversation closed.
Same leader gets frustrated that her team ‘don’t innovate as much as they should’ and ‘don’t seem to have the creative ideas’ she is expecting from them’. I wonder why?
Better’ response? ‘I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we do that’/’that’s interesting, I thought everyone was really clear – so tell me more’ – or if time is limited: ‘That’s a great question – let’s arrange a session to focus on that one topic.’
That opens a dialogue.
A leader I worked with recently (definitely one for talking too much!) was hugely frustrated: ‘I’ve told them so many times how to do this thing’, she said.  ‘But it’s still not done’ ‘I thought I gave them all the information they need’.  And that’s exactly the problem. She’d bamboozled and overwhelmed them by talking too much over and over again.
How about some pauses?  Asking what questions they have? Asking them to repeat back their understanding of the project?  She does that now and what a big positive difference it’s made.

Here’s another example:

Team member in her 1-1 with her manager: ‘I can’t get my voice heard in the meeting. I try to speak but get drowned out by the louder voices. I don’t know what to do’.

Manager: ‘I’ll give you an agenda topic to work with so you can lead on that, okay?

Team member (to self) – ‘that’s not going to help at all so why is she making that assumption?’

‘Better’ response? ‘Thanks for bringing that up! What would you like to do to change that – and how can I help?’

Now sometimes of course we legitimately need to close people down – I shared an example of how to do that in my last article.
As two of my male clients said recently (I swear I’m not making this up) ‘My wife always says to me she doesn’t want me to tell me what to do she just wants me to listen’.
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