Stop talking and start bottom-lining your meetings
I timed it. In a one-hour meeting, one of the participants talked nonstop for nearly 15 minutes before pausing to take a breath. Nearly 25% of the meeting time was spent on a topic that may or may not have been relevant to the group and with no one listening or engaged.
Individuals often say things like “I am just processing out loud” or “let me do a brain dump and see what sticks.” While these tactics may help leaders sort through their thinking, they can also be incredibly disruptive when used in a group discussion.
Whether in meetings, on phone calls or over e-mail, communication that drones on and on can be distracting. It also fails to effectively communicate the sender's thoughts. This can be a fatal trap for leaders when success is dependent on conveying a clear message and engaging in dialogue, listening and connecting.
One of the most critical skills leaders can learn is the art of bottom-lining, getting to the underlying or ultimate outcome quickly. Concise communication is important for a variety of reasons. In groups, it ensures more voices can come to the table with information that elevates the discussion.
Bottom-lining keeps everyone engaged in the issue or topic at hand, and it allows people to move from their stories into defined action. Bottom-lining can also help individuals deliver more powerful feedback and have meaningful discussions that get to the root of issues.
While bottom-lining is sometimes referred to as being brief in your communication, I prefer to think of it as zeroing in on your key points quickly. It emphasizes the essence of your message, as opposed to the extraneous details that might surround it. Employees want leaders who listen, share wisdom well and challenge them to arrive at solutions. Doing this requires a few simple steps.
1. Simply speak less
30 seconds. While not all situations require bottom-lining, many circumstances benefit from you not talking more than 30 seconds at a time. After 30 seconds, pause, ask a question and allow others an opportunity to contribute. Paying attention to how long you speak and limiting that overall time will make you more engaging and force you to deliver a more succinct message. Bottom line: listen twice as much as you talk.
2. Find appropriate ways to be heard
People spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves. As confirmed by research, talking simply feels good. When we talk about ourselves, our bodies release dopamine (a pleasure reward hormone), and we feel a sense of built credibility when we share our knowledge.
For many, talking is a way to better understand themselves and their thoughts. The key is to find the right people and create the best situations for this type of conversation. You might pull a group together beforehand to “brainstorm” or build some time into your meetings for this purpose. Making it clear that the conversation is about sharing ideas is critical to ensure you keep everyone on track.
3. Use multiple facilitation tactics
We all have different thinking styles, and leaders benefit from using various facilitation tactics to ensure robust communication. Providing agendas and materials in advance, offering time in meetings for silent reflection/idea generation and pausing to ask questions are all effective ways to solicit contributions from others in the group. These approaches also support an individual’s ability to bottom-line their statements by ensuring they can “get their thoughts together” before presenting them.
4. Stay on track
Lead out the conversation by sharing important information or making your point as opposed to waiting until the end. Know your objective from the conversation and recognize when you or others are deviating from that goal. Get back on track by redirecting the conversation to the topic at hand.
5. Get comfortable with silence
We talk to fill the silence. It can feel uncomfortable to allow the room to remain quiet, but I advise allowing at least seven seconds to pass between when you pause or ask a question and when you resume talking. Be patient and wait. When we embrace the silence, we allow the other person time to collect their thoughts and frame their perspective more clearly.
Resist the urge to talk in these moments. Instead of proceeding, call on someone to share their thoughts and then ask them to choose someone else next.
When we pause, listen deeply and bottom-line our thoughts, it elevates the quality of our decisions and builds trust. It will also support leadership strength as you elevate both your own ideas and your colleagues.
And that is how you bottom-line it.
Laurie Cure, Ph.D., is CEO of Innovative Connections, a management consulting firm in Fort Collins, Colo., and a consultant offering strategic planning, organizational development, talent management and HR support for organizational effectiveness. She has extensive experience in research and counseling around fear in the workplace and authored a book on the topic, "Leading Without Fear." Cure has previously been published in SHRM’s HR People + Strategy, CEO World, Chief Learning Officer and more.