The importance of being earnestly quiet
Practicing inclusive behaviors can have a direct and positive impact on those around us, both at work and in our everyday lives.
For example, building on a colleague’s points in discussions and meetings, while being sure to give them full credit for their contribution, is a great inclusive behavior to practice. It’s easy to do and often has a profound effect on the speaker in question, making them feel appreciated and valued. When done in front of others— say, in a meeting— it also demonstrates our commitment to being a generous team player.
The regular practice of active listening is also highly effective. We not only focus our minds on what others are saying, but we also demonstrate that we are listening by maintaining eye contact and leaning in, disciplining ourselves to avoid distractions.
But building on a colleague's points and active listening will benefit no one if our efforts seem intrusive. This is what happens when we fall into the common habit of over-confirming. Over-confirmation occurs when we are constantly commenting: “good point, terrific, yes, I agree!” It may feel to us as if we are showing empathy and being a good listener. But being too vocal breaks the flow and ends up shifting attention away from the speaker and onto us.
I learned this the hard way, back in the pre-virtual era when delivering a group coaching session to 20 twenty managers in a large insurance company. The meeting was scheduled to be in-person, but eight participants from one site got caught in a snowstorm and had to dial in by phone. The exchange, which was lively, was audio recorded and I was eager to hear the tape because I’d been too busy coaching to take any notes.
Yet hearing the tape felt agonizing because every time someone said anything, I heard myself interrupting: What a great idea! I agree! Or Good point, I hadn’t thought of that! It was not only irritating, repetitive, and overly perky, but after the first few times, it began to sound as if I were trying to hijack the meeting, making it all about me and my responses.
The perils of over-confirmation have only become more pressing in our virtual environment. For example, if we’re on a platform like Zoom and our microphone is on, the technology automatically spotlights us every time we affirm what anyone says. We’ve all seen this happen: a person who’s extremely empathic or enthusiastic ends up repeatedly grabbing the screen as they eagerly try to signal their support. The effect is disruptive, the very opposite of what they intend.
Silence is indeed at times golden, and the more we can quietly listen, or call attention to a colleague’s remarks in a low key and thoughtful way, the better off we— and others— will be.
You can pre-order my forthcoming book Rising Together at a discounted price before publication on February 28. Just click one of the links below. If you do pre-order, you will be invited to attend a free 60-minute Zoom workshop with me on April 11th.
Thanks for reading All Rise with Sally Helgesen! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.