Why Everybody's Meetings Are Distracted, Egotistical, And Pointless

Put a bunch of smart people into a room and ask them to solve a problem. What could go wrong?

It's a matter of fact: We don't always listen to the most fact-filled person in the room. We don't opt for the opinion of the expert when we're in meetings. Instead, we defer to the loudest person in the room—which will be great for their ego, but awful for our decisions.

Why? New research from the University of Utah and Idaho State University helps us to see why we follow the loudmouth. According to a Wall Street Journal blog:

People tend to rely too much on "messy proxies for expertise"—such as a speaker’s confidence level, extroversion, gender and/or race—and not enough on the content of his or her contributions, when making judgments about expertise, says Mr. Bonner, (the study's lead author). Doing so can be costly if the group doesn’t heed those with the most relevant knowledge, Mr. Bonner says.

We tend to guess at who the expert is, Bonner says, though confidence doesn't necessarily correlate with expertise. And the conversation domination creates the biggest issues when you're trying to sort out a particular answer, like how many products you'll ship next week.

So what to do about it?

Cleaning up the meeting mess

We've spent some time contemplating meeting malfeasance at Fast Company. Here are a few of our solutions:

* Recognize that meetings get off track for many reasons. Find out why.

* Don't brainstorm, "brain-write." Start the meeting with everybody writing down their ideas without talking to anyone first—then you'll avoid the constraining effects of groupthink.

* Invest in (creative) solitude. Kellogg management professor and Creative Conspiracy author Leigh Thompson has an idea for productive, well-communicated isolation:

Let the independent start the day in her cave, free of email, drop-in meetings, and other subtle suckers of productivity. Then have everybody assemble around the campfire at a regular hour—like maybe around lunchtime.

Hat tip: the Wall Street Journal

[Image: Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski]

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  • redhead architect

    As a woman, my opinions are often overlooked.  Typically, the "loud talker" is a well-intentioned guy.... Brain writing is good as long as everyone is able to share equally with the group.

  • Beth Simon

    Hi Drake - I like how you have brought these ideas together. It's worthwhile to consider the extensive effect that "loud talkers" have on a meeting's discourse. Beyond becoming the de facto thought leaders in the room, the loudest voice in the room can steamroll over vocal feedback and contributions of less talkative but perhaps more valuable thinkers. "Brain writing" is a great start, and the more tools and techniques a group can employ in their process for meeting crispness and honest feedback from all (regardless of voice volume), the better.

  • Ivana Preiss

    finally. i have been getting tired of listening to everybody constantly speaking about co-creating and collaborating.