- I don’t want to be one of those people who talk too much.
- Don’t want to repeat what someone else has already said.
- Don’t want to upstage more senior members of the Executive Team. Don’t want to offer opinions about issues outside of my portfolio.
I have heard it all. Reasons why we silence ourselves at an Executive Team meeting. Let’s get this straight, shall we! Someone has decided that you should have a seat at the table at your company’s most senior influencing and decision-making body. You are a member of the team. And you decide 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, become repetitive, over-heat with emotion, don’t feel the pulse of the room.
Too much/too little. Too much/too little.
Rightfully claiming our voice as an equal 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.“
He doesn’t always know when to speak up, says Claude, the French CEO of a global micro-chip manufacturer, about his protégé Massimo as we chat last week. 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 much/too little dilemma shows up in my Executive Coaching conversations. Otherwise self-assured and highly competent 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 much/too little looks like for you in your Executive Team interactions:
Don’t miss the moment.
As the team dives into a topic, as a discussion takes shape, as this discussion shifts into focus, 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 now becomes a distraction.
Catch the moment when your instincts nudge you to jump in. Trust your instincts. Jump. Deliver your perspective clearly and succinctly. Then cede conversational space, please.
Silence is not an option.
An occasional strategic silence in a meeting can be a very fine 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 Team meetings without contributing, and you have rendered yourself irrelevant. Whatever your inner chatter that tells you to stay silent – ditch it. Your role is not to be a demure quiet presence. Your role is to actively advance productive conversations that foster collective action.
In case of doubt, manage yourself differently. Set a concrete participation goal. I will speak up at least 3 times during this meeting. While that 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 all the time, 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. Consensus-grower. 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 meeting topic has its own life-cycle. Intensity of conversation grows. Peaks. Interest fizzles. The group is ready to move on.
Sense the life-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 suddenly become the way-too-much person. And the person with way-too-little influence. Notice – and shut up.
Most importantly perhaps, 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 already abdicated much of your influence.
Want to be part of the pre-meeting decisions? Have your 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 much/too little/just right. Now/later/not at all.
That is the dance of the Executive Team, isn’t it? The split-second decisions we make, moment by moment, as our team congregates.
Trust your instincts. Don’t over-talk. And please know that habitual silence is not an option. Ever, ever.