Why You Should Never Ignore Silence in a Meeting

Mike Kotsis meetings, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

stop sign that says "speak up" | silence in a meeting

Assumptions are one of the most dangerous things on a business leadership team. Why? Because no one knows what you’re thinking. At the beginning of the session, I tell teams that my expectations of them for the day are to be open and honest in the moment. Doing this “in the moment” is crucial to building team health.

Until they really understand why being open and honest in the moment is so crucial, I witness teams trying to rush past the pauses or silences in meetings. Why? They typically want to move fast and get stuff done. The irony is that if you move fast through the pauses and hesitations of leadership team members, you will actually slow down the entire team. You’ll get more done, faster, if you stop in the moment and get those people to speak their mind.

What Does Silence Mean?

If a leadership team member is hesitating on a particular issue and the team tries to blow past it, an assumption is being made about what that person is thinking—usually, that they’re on board and have nothing to add. Here are some possibilities of what could actually be going on. Silence can mean:

  • Trust issues – they just don’t trust the other person on the team and aren’t willing to speak up for fear of retribution.
  • Disagreement – they disagree with the other person but assume the other person knows where they stand
  • Overwhelm – they are overwhelmed with the stuff that they’ve got to tackle and this is just one more thing on their plate
  • Agreement – they’re still processing the issue and just need more time to think through the details before responding
  • Distraction – they’re thinking about something else entirely that isn’t related to the topic

Drawing Out a Silent Team Member

These are just a few examples of what silence can mean. The trick is to know which situation you’re dealing with at any given moment. How can you tell what’s going on in someone’s head? You don’t, until you ask!

Ask the question, right in the moment: “Why the hesitation?” “What Are you thinking?” This will get your silent team member to remove assumptions from everyone’s minds and clarify where they stand.

Yes, doing this in the moment can feel scary and uncomfortable. It is tempting to sweep it under the rug and move on. But doing so will hold the entire team back in the long run. If you assume that silence signals agreement when it means disagreement, you’ve got a team member who isn’t committed to the decision. If you don’t clear that up, you could have days or weeks of work that are wasted because that person was on a completely different page than everyone else.

Speak your mind in the moment. Stop, and address all hesitations in the moment. No assumptions!


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