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They are always quiet in meetings, beware of such


RECENTLY, my professional colleague Owen Mavengere, wrote an interesting piece on the cost of useless meetings which resonate well with my firm belief that incompetency can be masked in a full diary. The manager has no time to be on the production floor to see if the production line is in check, let alone rub shoulders with clients on the sales floor to monitor customer trends, get real time feedback, which is a trajectory to quality management, innovation, and customer retention.

Today, I explore a type of employee or even a manager or a senior executive who attends all meetings but does not say anything throughout the meeting. It is completely bizarre that one gets a privilege to sit or be in the echelons of power but have no views.

Ask yourself whether there is a need for you to attend a meeting where you said nothing, you clearly wasted your time. With the advent of online meetings, mute participants are mutating and replicating themselves and are not even bothered. It is scarier that the meeting hosts are not alive to repeated mute participants in their meetings.

Remember, you are your views

People remember you for your views on a matter and it is what defines and differentiates us. Why deny yourself the right for people to hear you? I do not need a person in my meeting or on my team if you constantly do not have a view. Such an individual is of no value to me and the organisation.

Every decision made is a sum of varied views expressed and sieved to get the final course of action, hence if we find ourselves carrying passengers in the meeting lane, they rob us the ability to make quality decisions. You are invited to a meeting for a reason, your view has been valued through the invite and when you withhold that view, you are of no use.

Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent, the world is full of educated derelicts and in meetings we do not need such. Being always mute or rarely speaking in meetings is one sign of an educated derelict, such people fail or go into oblivion in organisations as no one knows their views. They are not bold enough to share what they think on a matter in a meeting. I would rather not attend a meeting if I knew I have no view but trust me I have views.

Have you wondered why at times you remember a very brilliant student in your class at university who people thought was going to make it big in the industry, but his/her career has gone nowhere. One reason to explain is that a proportion those persons fall in these categories of people who just do not talk or express views in meetings hence no one notices them or takes them seriously.

Why are they like that

Firstly, muteness is a sign of disengaged or a form of disgruntlement. Commonly, people who do not participate in meetings pass the test of disengagement. When an employee is discontented by the organisation, they see no reason to participate in meetings, they are waiting for the next opportunity to come their way and leave the company or are waiting for retirement to rescue them from the horror of coming to a job they hate daily.

Disengagement can take various forms; one might be dealing with non-work problems which is common in the current economic environment where salaries are mostly inadequate, hence people get invited to meetings which they physically or electronically attend but their mind is at home or at the scene of their problem.

Lack of shared vision- if you have team members who do not share the same vision as the company, they see no reason to give their views to either build or shape that vision as they simply do not believe in whatever is tabled at meetings.

On the extreme side you have certain participants whose zeal and drive were shattered by the organisation, they used to share their views and participate in meetings but were either silenced or meant to believe that their view does not matter hence see no reason to contribute anymore. If they say something, nothing changes so why should they keep saying things. This is an indicator of a toxic environment, mostly headed by “bad bosses” where their opinion and their voice are above everyone in the room.

Certain bosses are very overbearing, these can even be male chauvinists or misogynists or narcissists who look down on anyone but themselves and as a team member your view or voice has no chance. Extreme cases, they want your view but their actions either punish your view especially if you have dissenting opinion or shut it out completely. I have been in meetings where the superior annihilates an attendee just for having a view or the host is too aggressive that participants are left with no choice than to listen and leave as soon as the meeting is over.

Society does not really teach young adults to be confident enough to speak out their views which they then take this attitude to the workplace. During my first year at university, we had a course called communication skills and truthfully speaking, I remember nothing from that course. People are not accustomed to being assertive and give your opinion respectfully and be able to engage others.

 As a professional, you must teach yourself to communicate, the world does not owe you a future, let alone your employer does not owe you a paid communication course; take the initiative.

 It is also acceptable to be silent at times in meetings because you are in the meeting to learn but do not spend the whole meeting silent as you are doing a disservice to other attendees.

Makwara is a chartered accountant with both local and international experience in finance, accounting, auditing, and business strategy. He is part of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Zimbabwe and the views expressed in this article are personal and based on his professional experiences.

When I was an audit manager, I got opportunities to attend audit committee meetings with the top people in industries and i took that as learning opportunities into the art of decision making but I would make sure to say something, as subtle as commenting on spellings during review of minutes of previous meetings. If there was a matter under discussion that might have an audit impact, I would try to voice my opinion.

Length of meetings

Avoid long meetings or lecture type of meetings and break people into smaller groups which forces people to participate. Rotating roles in meetings can also help to assist those who are less confident or shy to develop that skill and to speak in meetings. Imagine if the meeting host duties rotate, it forces the mute community to engage. It forces them to prepare in advance on what to say and how to lead the meeting well. Elon Musk’s, "No Big Meetings" rule fascinates me. Musk views big meetings as a blight of big companies and believes that unless one is certain they are providing value to the entire audience, there is no need for big meetings. At one company I was involved with, we stopped doing press briefings in a room full of people as history showed only one or two individuals ask questions and the rest will be quiet enjoying free drinks and water and opted for one-on-one press meeting with an analyst house.

Business leaders need to be vigilant and pay attention in meetings and isolate such individuals who rarely speak in meetings and make follow ups to understand the source of the issue why they shy away from participating. Such behaviour is non-value adding and needs to be extracted out of a team or an organisation. If remedial actions or support can be given to the team, the better, however some might have to be totally left out of meetings if they continue to not have a view.

The Tesla boss encourages employees to “walk out” of time-wasting meetings, radical I guess for our market. Musk says, “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.” Personally, when I know I have nothing to contribute to a meeting, I will excuse myself from attending.

In my team if you have no view or input, you do not deserve to be on the table with us. I hope with these few words I have touched someone to speak up during meetings and add value and be seen. When you remain mute in meetings, you are not punishing anyone but denying yourself a chance to add value and be a significant pawn. Remember, you are your views.

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Makwara is a chartered accountant with both local and international experience in finance, accounting, auditing, and business strategy. He is part of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Zimbabwe and the views expressed in this article are personal and based on his professional experiences.

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