How Interrupting a Meeting Can Boost Productivity
High Performance and Low Performance are Contagious in the Workplace
Here’s some good news: Recent research shows that high performance in the workplace is contagious.
And now, some bad news: The same research shows that low performance in the workplace is contagious, too.
But then, there’s some more good news: High performance appears to be more infectious than low performance.
"If you sit a strong and a weak performer next to each other, the weaker employee performs much better, and the stronger employee’s performance doesn't decline much at all,"
- Michael Housman, workforce scientist, told Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman.
For a recent study of "spatial management," Housman and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 2,000 workers at a technology company with locations across the U.S. and Europe during a 24-month period. Researchers found that seating the right types of workers together can lead to higher productivity and profits. Proximity, they concluded, "has been shown to generate up to a 15% increase in organizational performance.”
No surprise: Housman advises placing lower performers next to strong performers when possible.
But what if team members rarely operate in the same room, building or city?
How Can High Performance be Contagious in a Digital Environment?
Digital technology is redefining the meaning of “proximity” in the workplace. When today’s workers “sit together,” more and more often they do so in virtual settings using conferencing and collaboration tools. The estimated 11 million business meetings that happen every day in the United States take place in a variety of forms – in person, by phone, online or some combination of all three. So, any office initiative to make use of Housman’s findings needs to consider methods beyond just shuffling a seating chart or shifting a floor plan.
One way in meetings to encourage productive behaviors while discouraging counterproductive habits, according to leadership guru Dan Rockwell, is interrupting teammates, especially when they “talk on and on.”
Sometimes good team members should practice “bad manners,” Rockwell writes in his Leadership Freak blog, and interrupt meeting contributions that continue too long. The talkative participant has the right motive – i.e., providing information, insight and/or feedback – but may not have the right focus or articulation to move discussion forward.
5 Questions to Ask to Interrupt Rambling Meetings
- “What’s your question?”
- “What’s next?”
- “What would you like to do about this?”
- “What are you trying to accomplish?”
- “What’s your conclusion about this?”
Rockwell believes there’s a polite way to handle interrupting during a business conversation. Here are some of his tips, with a little of our spin:
- Speak gently. Tone matters. Frustration doesn’t create connection.
- Insert an “and” or “so” before interrupting. “So, what’s next?”
- If you are leading the discussion, set a time limit just as someone begins. “Apologies, but we have only 10 minutes’ left. What’s your conclusion about this?
How to Interrupt Different Types of Meetings
Use deferential language to lead your interruption, such as “excuse me” or “pardon me.” Pause and give the speaker a chance to stop. You may need repeat your lead-in words before there’s a break. And as Rockwell cautions, monitor your tone. Keep in mind your goal isn’t stopping the person from contributing. Your objective is facilitating a more concise, focused contribution that makes the meeting more productive.
Mixed Conferences (Some participants in the room, with others connected by audio)
If you’re participating by audio connection, see the previous bullet for direction. If you’re in the same room as the speaker, nonverbal cues, such as body language, can help you signal benevolent intent. So, make eye contact before interrupting. Lean forward toward your teammate and smile. Remember your mission: Bring out the best performance from your colleague.
Use the chat function to pose your question. Typing text is another way to “speak gently.” So, take care how you phrase your message. Tapping out only “What’s your question?” or “What do you need?” may be too abrupt to elicit a positive response. Perhaps a quick “Sorry to distract you, but…” will do the job of cushioning. And like a comment in an audio conference, a chat message may need to be repeated before it’s noticed.