Virtually every team has a meeting dominator—that person who monopolizes the conversation and keeps others from getting a word in edgewise. While dominators can derail face to face meetings, the problem can be even worse when the team is meeting virtually. Indeed, meeting dominators just make the challenge of keeping everyone engaged that much more difficult. After all, why should everyone pay attention when the team big mouth is just going to keep droning on and on anyway? The dominator isn’t just a morale buzzkill though. Having one or two dominate the discussion also sends the subliminal message that others simply aren’t as important, and their perspectives are less valuable. Possibly, the most tragic consequence may be the negative impact on decision making. Arguably, teams make better decisions as a result of diverse input and perspectives, but when one or two dominate the discussion, that diversity is severely limited and discussions, ideas, and decisions just aren’t as well informed. Indeed, if your virtual calls are being dominated by just one or two voices, your team may be missing out more than you realize.
Virtually everyone has experienced a dominator—possibly you’ve been the dominator. The question becomes: How do you manage the dominator during your next virtual meeting? There are many ways to address a dominator, but one of my favorite techniques is super simple—the round robin technique. Round robin doesn’t just help manage dominators. It’s also a great way to draw out your quieter team members (which can be just as problematic).
How to use the Round Robin technique during meetings
It’s super simple. Just let the team know that you’d like to go around the “room” (or down the list of attendees) one by one to hear each person’s thoughts on the topic. Obviously, this wouldn’t be practical with large groups, but for groups of say eight or fewer, it can work quite well. Just give each person a clear time limit, say 30-90 seconds depending on the type of feedback you’re soliciting (e.g. just a vote on an issue already discussed vs. presentation of new ideas). Make it clear that everyone will have an opportunity to share and if you have a chronic meeting dominator, place them towards the end of the list. It’s fine for others to pose relevant questions to the person who has the floor, but if others interrupt or chime in out of turn randomly, gently remind them that someone else has the floor. You can also add “Open Issues” as one of your last agenda items so that when people raise issues out of turn (or off topic), you can ask them to hold those comments until that section of the meeting.
Don’t overuse it though
It’s also important to know when to use round robin and when not to use it. Certainly, no one wants to attend virtual meetings that are overly structured and stiff so it’s important to use the technique selectively. The best times are when you’re generating ideas and you want to get diverse opinions, you’ve already discussed a topic somewhat and you really just want to hear a bit about where each person stands or maybe it’s a somewhat sensitive or complicated topic and you want to ensure each person has some uninterrupted air time. It’s also important to remember that you can suggest using the technique mid-meeting even if you hadn’t previous planned to use it. Say the discussion has gone a bit off the rails because Michael has really been monopolizing the conversation or pushing his point of view a bit too much. It’s perfectly fine to interject with something like “Michael, you’ve brought up some great points and since we’ve only got ten minutes remaining, let’s do a quick round robin to be sure we’ve heard from everyone.” This approach is also helpful because it alerts him to the fact that he’s been dominating. (Quite often they’re oblivious.)
Whatever you do, don’t make the classic mistake of sticking your head in the sand and pretending the dominator doesn’t exist. Whether you’re the meeting leader/facilitator or just a meeting participant, you can step in to suggest the team use the round robin technique. After all, what is the purpose of getting everyone together if the group is only going to hear from the one or two loudest voices on the call. Using round robin doesn’t just help address one person on one call. It gently conditions the entire team to develop an environment of inclusive conversation, and that can be the spark for developing a much healthier team culture overall.