Here’s an easy one: You’re asking around whether anyone has any questions, somebody responds with “no” and you - caught in the moment - move on.
The conversation evolves and nobody bats an eyelid. But hang on, somebody might have been left behind today because of your willingness to take one reply for many.
This one really plays out in situations where a (self-appointed) leader speaks for the group, be it in workshops or during meetings. It might be yourself who is keen to rush through a meeting, or it’s a particularly dominant participant in a meeting.
It can be more subtle with Q&A sessions where people might be too shy to speak up. You’re also likely to see this whenever you assume the knowledge of other people in the room, particularly when you think they’re all on the same page.
You sense that some participants are dozing off, because when the loudest and most confident are allowed to speak for everyone, others become disengaged. After all, why listen when the conversation is just moving along without you?
A workshop is there for people to learn, a meeting is there to get everyone on the same page, move forward decisions and to hear different opinions. If somebody speaks for the group (even if that very person is you), you might be putting these well intentioned goals in jeopardy, so tread lightly.
It’s normal to make assumptions about the experience of others, aligning those assumptions with our own experience. If you end up dominating a meeting, and yeah, that might be a systemic issue (or two), it’s up to you to hold back and give space to others. If you end up taking the initiative and speaking for others, make sure you speak for them and not through them.
Never let someone speak for the rest of a group, especially if they’re responding “no” to the infamous “any more questions?”-question. Count To 10 Before Moving On can be a powerful tool to hear more than just the dominating opinions.
You: Anyone got any questions left unanswered?
You: Let’s hear if anyone else has a question. We have plenty of time and I want to make sure everyone is heard.
If tensions are high or you’re running out of time, you can always invite people to talk to you in private after the meeting.
Anyone got any questions left unanswered?
Alright. In case you think of something afterwards, feel free to catch me and I’ll make sure to pass the answer on to the group.
This gives people a way to answer their questions in a less exposing and more welcoming environment. If you notice this happens a lot, it might be a good idea to establish more supporting structure for the workshop/meeting. A proper format and some framing - you can borrow exercises from retrospectives - can allow new voices and opinions to flourish, which ultimately benefits the whole group.
From the Toolbox is a compilation of small practices, tools and life-hacks I collected over the years.