The Savvy Director - weekly insights delivered to your inbox on Sunday mornings. Click here

When to Stop Talking

Feb 06, 2022
This response from a Savvy Director reader to the question ‘What boardroom skills do you want to learn?’ caught my attention:
 
“Knowing when there is no added value to ongoing discussion.”
 
You might think that particular skill is one that needs to be exercised by the board chair. After all, it’s the chair’s responsibility to guide the discussion, make sure all voices have been heard, and recognize when the time is right to bring the discussion to a close.
 
Yet each individual director at the board table also needs to make a similar determination when it comes to their own participation in the discussion. Have I said enough? Have I made my point? Is it time to stop talking? Have I stopped adding value?
 
Knowing when to stop talking requires being present, listening carefully, and, above all, a healthy dose of self-awareness.

 

Adding Value

What does it mean to add value to a discussion? How does that happen?
 
For one thing, it means offering up a different perspective. That could be deeper knowledge, a unique experience, or a new insight. Maybe you’ve come across a similar situation in your career, or you’ve just finished an online course that dealt with the topic in detail. Maybe you used to live somewhere where the issue was viewed a whole different way. For any number of reasons, your unique perspective can help make the discussion richer and more nuanced – moving the board forward toward making a sound decision.
 
You might also add value by helping to frame the discussion. For instance, if you’re familiar with a proven technique, a new framework, or a specialized tool that might be useful, suggesting it could turn out to be a huge time saver. I’ve seen directors who are – or used to be – executives, consultants and facilitators help the board gather diverse views and then move toward consensus.
 
Another way you might add value is with emotional intelligence. Perhaps you have the gift of saying just the right thing to ease the tension when the discussion gets contentious. Or you notice the body language that shows a fellow board member is feeling upset, frustrated, or alienated. Or maybe you’re the one who always remembers to express appreciation for someone else’s work and to give credit where it’s due.
 
Adding value might also consist of getting the conversation back on track, nudging it in a different direction, or guiding it toward a conclusion. This can happen with a well-placed question, a summation of what you’ve heard, or even just a reminder of how much time is left in the meeting.
 
In other words, there are many ways in which each individual director might add value to a discussion, and they’re not all about facts, figures, and arguments.

 

When to Speak and When to Hold Back

Adding value doesn’t involve talking until you’re blue in the face. Instead, it’s about listening to what people are saying and doing your personal best to drive the meeting forward — whether that’s with thoughtful comments or just an approving nod.
 

When to Speak Up

Be strategic about when you speak up, and mindful about what you say and how you say it.
 
When you care. Remind yourself why you care enough to speak up about the subject. It helps you connect with a sense of purpose and builds your confidence. It reminds you that your credibility doesn’t come solely from your role or your experience, but from your commitment and passion.
 
When it’s your duty. Remind yourself that you have a fiduciary duty to speak up in the best interests of the organization you serve and its stakeholders. You can’t choose to be silent if you feel that there’s an ethical dimension to the topic.
 
When you’re called upon. If the board chair or the meeting facilitator asks for your views, it’s time to speak up – even if you keep it very brief.
 
When you’re prepared. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit in the meeting. Prepare your talking points beforehand, especially if you sense the meeting might become contentious. Preparation will help you feel relaxed and confident, and help you stay on message when you speak. Even if the meeting goes in an unexpected direction, at least you’ll know the points you’d like to get across.
 

When to Hold Back

Sometimes it’s the person who says the least in a meeting who has the most influence.
 
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” - Abraham Lincoln
 
When all you’d be doing is repeating someone else’s thoughts without adding anything. It’s great when another board member says something you agree with, but there’s no need to go on about how much you concur. Simply saying, “I agree with so-and-so,” will move the conversation forward without adding unnecessary noise to the room.
 
When you’re changing the subject. Don’t bring up that great – but unrelated - idea you’ve been thinking about forever. It’s frustrating when the board is trying to sort through a dilemma, only to have someone completely change the subject, leaving two unresolved issues to contend with.
 
When you’d be showing off. If you’re just talking to be heard and to be considered an active participant, then maybe you should choose to zip your lips. Ask yourself if you’re speaking just to show how much you know. If that’s the case, it’s better to let someone else talk or let the meeting run its natural course. 
 
When other people need a chance to process. Resist the urge to jump in with the answer. That won’t build consensus. Instead, allow the board some time to wrestle with the question and work towards a solution. The process helps directors build trust, develop skills, and raise their visibility.
 
When a one-on-one conversation would be better. Difficult conversations should take place privately rather than addressing the issue at meeting in full view of the entire board. Instead, save it for later.
 
When you haven’t thought it through. Try to avoid knee-jerk reactions to something you’ve just heard. Think it through before speaking up. It allows you to formulate your thoughts and deliver your message in the best way possible.
 
When you’re having a bad day. If you’re having a bad day, haven’t had enough sleep, or in a bad mood, it’s best to sleep on it before you decide you want to speak up. Sleeping on things gives you the space to decide if you really want to communicate that message, and how you want to do so.

 

Communicating for Maximum Effect

When you do decide to speak up, here are four important reminders:
 
Be brief. People’s attention spans are short, and they get lost in long sentences and large words. Say what you want to say quickly, clearly, and briefly, choose simple, straightforward messaging, and cut right to the chase.
 
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." – Thomas Jefferson
 
Limit yourself to one point. If your goal is to talk less, resist the urge to cram every idea or point into a single discussion.
 
Frame Things in a Positive Way. Certain words can greatly affect the way our message is received. When we use the word but, listeners focus only on the information that comes after the but. Instead of saying but try changing the word to and.
 
Take a Breath. Pause and breathe to build your confidence. It helps center you and strengthens your voice so you can speak with the full weight of your conviction. If you feel like you might be rambling, take a breath or pause and take a sip of water. Give yourself a moment to re-align.

 

Are You Talking Too Much?

“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” - Helen Gurley Brown
 
If you’re wondering whether you’ve been talking too much, try these techniques:
 
Ask for Feedback. Soliciting feedback is one of the simplest but most important things you can do. Ask a trusted colleague to watch you in a meeting and share their input. Be specific and make your intention known, saying something like, “I’m trying to communicate better in meetings. Can you let me know how I’m doing? What am I doing right, and what needs work? Am I talking too much?"
 
Watch Body Language. Use body language as a clue. Notice how other board members react when you speak. Are their eyes glazed over? Do their faces look vacant? Are they leaning back in their chair, looking at their nails, doing anything but listening to you? Chances are, you lost them. Are their arms crossed over their chests? They’re probably closed off to what you’re saying.
 
Learn from a Role Model. The next time you’re in a meeting, do more watching than talking. Observe another director who adds a lot of value to discussions – someone who can sell their ideas and influence decisions. How often do they speak? How are their ideas received? By observing and noting what makes them effective, you can adapt their techniques to your own style.

 

Your takeaways:

  • There are many ways you can add value to a discussion. It’s not all about facts and figures.
  • Be intentional about when to speak up and when to hold back.
  • When you do decide to speak, be brief, be positive, and remember to pause and take a breath to build your confidence.
  • Wondering if you’re talking too much? Ask for feedback and watch your colleagues’ body language.

 

Resources:

 

Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.
 
Thank you.
 
Scott
 
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
 
Share Your Insight: What signs do you look for to let you know you’ve been talking too long?

Comment

Close

Welcome to the Savvy Director Blog

Stay connected with our weekly posts about what it takes to be a savvy board director