my boss refused to move on with a meeting until quiet staff spoke up

A reader writes:

My department hosts a yearly off-site working day. It’s a casual gathering of our department of 40 people. There’s a theme, we have a guest speaker usually and then have small and large group discussions about the day’s theme. At the end of the day, our department head wanted to hear feedback from people who were comfortable sharing with the group their thoughts about the day— how we thought it went, how to improve future days, etc. A few people shared their thoughts. She asked that some people who normally don’t share their thoughts say something (as in most groups, there are extrovert and introverts—I am of the latter). It took a few minutes but a couple people eventually shared. And then we waited in mostly silence for the next 20 minutes while she waited for more people to share. It was awkward. A few more people piped up, more in an effort to end the moment rather than wanting to talk. It even looked like she was writing down names of those who spoke. It was demoralizing, especially for those of us not comfortable speaking to large groups, even coworkers. People were looking around to egg others into talking. It felt like school, like the teacher was holding us back from recess because we weren’t behaving.

I want to say something to my manger (who reports to the department head) about how this doesn’t encourage quieter people to speak up, but rather discourages people from wanting to be put on the spot. Am I overreacting to this? Is there a tactful way to bring this up without sounding like I’m complaining? I feel she intended to make people talk, because if her goal was to just get feedback, she could have gotten them from written notes, emails, etc. This wasn’t the only method to use (and she knows that, since she’s asked before with other written methods).

Ugh, it’s annoying and it’s treating people like wayward students rather than professional adults.

If she wants everyone to contribute something — and she clearly does — then she needs to just say that. She should say, “Let’s go around the room and I’d like to hear from each person about what they thought worked well today and what could have worked better” … but she shouldn’t pretend that it’s optional and then glare at people when they don’t contribute.

And to be clear, it’s fine for her to say that she wants each person to speak, even if some people aren’t super comfortable speaking in front of groups. It’s a pretty normal work expectation when you work with other people, and it’s her prerogative to ask to hear from everyone. So it’s not that part that’s a problem.

The problem is the drip-drip-drip of “who’s comfortable sharing?” … followed by “well, I’d really like to hear from others” … followed by awkward silence … followed by long, uncomfortable waiting and nudging people to speak up. And writing down names? Come on. It really makes no sense that she didn’t just ask to hear from everyone to begin with.

Often when managers do this kind of thing, it’s because they love the idea that even though it’s optional, people will be excited to participate anyway. In other words, they want everyone to want to do it. Which is a fine thing to want, but it isn’t really how “optional” works.

A good manager would just matter-of-factly set clear expectations from the start.

So yeah, I think you can bring it up. Don’t frame it as “not everyone is comfortable speaking in groups” (because, again, it’s reasonable to expect that people will suck it up and do that when required). Frame it as “if Jane wants to hear from everyone, it would be better to just say that from the start instead of saying it’s optional but then making it clear that it’s not. Her expectations were unclear and confusing, and it’s demoralizing to take her at her word and then feel penalized for that.”

{ 306 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Justin

    You know, as both a teacher of adults and an office worker, this just makes me cringe. You can indeed get everyone to participate if you do it skillfully (I certainly make sure every one of my students – gov’t employees – are engaged) but this is… not how you do it

    Reply
    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

      Depends on the circumstances. Some years back, we had a director who tried to instigate group discussion – but we were frosting him out because of an incident two weeks’ prior.

      I felt sorry for our manager, who also was trying to get things going, but because of what had happened, she didn’t succeed, either….

      Reply
    2. Anonymoose

      I don’t understand why they didn’t just issue a free confidential survey afterwards. Google, Typeform and SurveyMonkey could have all accomplished this without the awkwardness. Also, as someone who does both surveys and focus groups, surveys get more data 99% of the time because folks have some time to consider and phrase their thoughts, eliminating anxiety and unknown.

      Also, your manager sucks OP.

      Reply
    3. The Foreign Octopus

      Hi Justin!

      This is a little off topic but still work-related (delete if you need to, Alison!) but since you’re a teacher of adults, I’d love to ask you have to get them engaged. I teach English to adults and it’s my first year doing so. I went into the job expecting them to all be engaged with the material, with my teaching, with each other, because they are adults and they have chosen to be there and paid quite a bit of money to be there. I’m surprised at the level of disengagement with them. I struggle to get everyone to do the at home writing exercises and I always have two students in one of my classes who talk in whispers whilst I’m teaching. I’ve told them to stop time and time again but they then default to playing with their phones, again something I’ve spoken with them about.

      My question is, what do you do to ensure that your students are engaged?

      I’d love some advice if you have the time!

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        1. The Foreign Octopus

          Will do! Thanks, Alison. I’m still new to commenting here but I love, love, love this website and your advice!

          Reply
  2. Dust Bunny

    The best college professor I ever had was in English, a subject I never even liked. Class participation was part of our grades, but he was a master of drawing answers out of reluctant students without embarrassing them.

    Way more people in many diverse professions need to cultivate that skill.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      Maybe we had the same teacher. :D
      Just kidding. But group discussion was a major part of my English grade back in the day, and our teacher was so friendly and good at making people feel relaxed and welcome that even the quiet people found themselves debating things with the others. I later had a philosophy prof with the same skill.

      Clearly they should be teaching management classes instead.

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      1. Justin

        Not to answer for DB, but for me, letting every student know they have a valued voice goes a long way. There are different ways to do this, of course. But ultimately it starts with setting expectations (you work hard and you’ll do well, I believe in what I’m saying and would like to transfer my energy to you), and then a mix of respect, voice (as mentioned), impartiality and clarity.

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        1. Squeeble

          Yeah, I think making students feel like their contributions are valued and interesting (rather than just a check in the “class participation” box) goes a long way. If I hesitate to speak up in a class or meeting, most likely it’s because I’m second-guessing whether or not anyone wants to hear from me. Of course, that’s mostly a me problem, but if you expect some students to have that issue and do what you can to mitigate it, that can help a lot.

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        2. Cordelia Vorkosigan

          And wait time is actually an important part of that — most people are uncomfortable with silence, so far too often teachers ask a question, wait maybe one second, and then supply the answer themselves. You have to wait long enough for the students to process the question and think about what they want to say.

          But 20 minutes is waaaaay too long. That’s not waiting for people to formulate their thoughts; that’s punishing people for not answering. Ick.

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          1. Anonymous Educator

            Yeah, if you have to wait 20 minutes, that means there’s either no other answer or you’re not framing the question in the right way.

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          2. myswtghst

            Great point on the wait time! I am a trainer, and one of the things I learned (in a train-the-trainer type course) was to count 7 seconds before speaking again (to clarify the question, solicit an answer more directly, or to answer my own question, depending on the situation). It gives people some time to process and respond, but doesn’t create lots of awkward dead air.

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        3. myswtghst

          Agreed on the importance of letting people know their contributions are valued. In the past, I led a team cultivating innovation in a call center environment, and a lot of the people I worked with were kind of… beaten down, I guess I’d say. It helped a great deal to just be encouraging, and demonstrate the same active listening skills I’d taught them to use with their customers when acknowledging their ideas (or at least the parts of their ideas I realistically thought could work).

          Also, since I’m mostly training processes now, there are definitely wrong answers, but even if someone gives me the wrong answer, I make sure to acknowledge their contribution – either thanking them for speaking up or highlighting part of their answer that was good. Acknowledgement in those scenarios is kind of like empathy – it has to be genuine to work, but if it is genuine, it’s pretty easy to do.

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      2. Veruca

        One thing I like to use when I’m teaching is to give people a heads-up that I’ll be asking everyone to share and tell them specifically what I’ll be asking. “We’re going to watch a video about teapot design. Afterwards I’ll ask each of you to share something that you found helpful or interesting in the video.” Then it gives them time to think about what they’d like to say. Over time, this works better because the students develop trust in the process and get more comfortable speaking to the group. Of course this only works if I prove myself to be a respectful facilitator!

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    2. Lemon Zinger

      The issue is that this is a workplace, which is not as safe a space as a classroom. I hate lying, but if I were asked my honest feedback on events, I would have to lie sometimes because the truth would get me in trouble.

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      1. AD

        I think that’s an important distinction to make. Work and classroom venues are really different, and expectations of what is and is not okay to share can vary widely.

        I’m not sure having the expectation that a workplace discussion facilitator will be able to work the same magic as a college professor in engaging a group of people in speaking up is not a fair comparison.

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        1. Gloucesterina

          Yeah, and in a classroom students get to experience the value of contributing to/listening to discussions over time. It isn’t a one-off experience and (in a well-designed sequence of activities/assignments) it helps you learn! Unclear that this setting gave participants any bang for their buck by participating or not participating.

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    3. Muriel Heslop

      I teach eighth grade English and I lead a lot of group discussions in my classes. I find my more reluctant participants do better in groups as the year progresses. By the end of the first week of school I know who my willing chatterboxes are and I make a conscious effort to speak one-on-one with those who are more quiet. For the first nine-twelve weeks I call all students up to my desk to discuss their work individually so that they (I hope!) understand that I care about their successes and their voices as individuals. Also, I have a suggestion box for people to put in ideas and thoughts about class activities and interactions – everything welcome as long as it criticizes only MY ideas and actions and not classmates’s work and presentations. And now that my students can email me I encourage them to write me things that they might not want overheard by classmates.

      As an extrovert chatterbox who grew up in a family of introverts I work really hard at hearing everyone thanks to my family!

      Reply
    4. Jessesgirl72

      My HS Chemistry teacher was trying to fight against participation gender bias in STEM classrooms, so he had a system where he personally called on everyone in the room on a rotating basis based on alphabetical order and the day of the week- so on Wednesday, he’d go down the roster by 3- marking where he’d left off to start from the next day.

      Like Alison said, we all knew we would have to participate, no exceptions, and knowing that everyone was going to called on exactly equally helped take away some of the nervousness and embarrassment about it because it was inevitable, and everyone got called on when they didn’t know an answer sometimes.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous Poster

    It’s very normal to ask people to provide feedback like this and ask everyone to contribute. The problem, like Alison pointed out, was the method used here (not the expectation).

    Another way to approach this is to, next time this awkwardness is coming up, pipe up and suggest, “Hey let’s all go around and give feedback, I think A B and C. Gertrude, would you please go next?”

    I’m an introvert but also awkwardness adverse. But if I start it, it might encourage others to continue going around. A private conversation with the boss might help also, but this is the sort of thing I’d expect the boss to forget about by the next time this rolls around.

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      I don’t think I’ll ever love speaking in groups, but I got a lot better at it when I joined a big company that does a lot of meetings of 20 people or more. We have a lot of introverts, and after sitting around in a lot of awkward silences, I finally realized that I’d never get a friendlier audience than a group full of people thinking “Oh, thank goodness someone else is talking so I don’t have to.” From there, the repetition of doing it again and again has reduced my fear to the point that I don’t stress nearly as much any more.

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      1. Anonymous Poster

        Yeah, this is part of what helped me deal with it! We had daily standup meetings with a dozen or so people that were quiet and awkward all the time (unless it was too quiet, then inevitably someone would crack an offensive joke).

        Also my MBA helped a lot – lots of presentations. There’s a kind of presenting ‘zone’ I go into that helps me disassociate a little. For me, it’s getting out of my own head that helps me get over being introverted and my hesitation.

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      2. Turtlewings

        <> Well-put! As a hardcore introvert, this is very much how I feel about extroverts. I love them. They’re great to be around (if I have to be around anyone) because THEY TALK, meaning I don’t have to!

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      3. Jessesgirl72

        Technically, that’s not what introvert is supposed to mean anyway. ;)

        I’m an extrovert who gets really uncomfortable talking in front of large groups, or even small groups of strangers.

        My husband is an introvert who will need to recharge after, but who is otherwise at ease talking to groups, because he has to do it so often for his job (and also, he has a healthy DGAF attitude about what people think of him, so he doesn’t get embarrassed about things like I do)

        A lot of performers (actors, comedians, musicians, etc) are introverts, who are fine when they are “On Stage” so to speak.

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        1. Stardust

          I’m honestly not a fan of using those terms in any but a few select situations because they can mean about ten different things depending on who you talk to when and why and in what context. By now, I feel like they’re very often more of an unnecessary hindrance than a helpful guide because people get so set in thinking of their labels as absolute.

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        2. Lily Rowan

          Yeah, your husband sounds like my father. Great at presenting, great at working a room, needed alone time to recharge after.

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      4. Jessica

        Same here. After a decade of working for Huge Company and having tons of meetings with a classroom worth of people in them, I went back to college to finish my degree, and discovered that presenting in class was exactly like participating in a meeting. What little fear I had around public speaking, I lost. As someone who always felt chicken about speaking up in front of people, that was a big relief. Public speaking now joins “needles” and “the dentist” as things that don’t bother me anymore.

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    2. Chocolate lover

      While I agree speaking in groups at work is reasonable (and I do so all the time, even as am introvert), I’d be resentful of a co-worker who asked me to speak up next. I’d expect it from a boss, not a colleague. I think it has to do with my perception of who has authority.

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        1. OhNo

          I think it would depend on your relationship with that coworker. If it was someone I knew well and had an otherwise good relationship with, it would be okay. If it was Jane-from-the-third-floor who I’ve never spoken to in my life, it would feel infantilizing and rude.

          If the OP thinks it’s likely to come up again, they can ask a couple others (who probably also found it awkward and uncomfortable) to buy in, so they know in advance what the plan is.

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    3. Lily Rowan

      It was a huge relief to me to learn that my new team will participate in whatever if we go around the room, because half of them will never say anything if you just throw the question out to the group.

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    4. AMPG

      You know, I don’t really think of this as an introvert/extrovert thing. I’m super introverted, but also love to hear myself talk and am often the first one to speak in a group discussion. The key is that a round-robin feedback session involves very little interpersonal interaction – you give your opinion and move on. I’d be much more likely to have a hard time in small team work during the day itself, because negotiating those interactions is very draining for me.

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    5. Chinook

      My department does an annual 2 day meeting with about 50 people and the wrap up is done effectively. The meeting chair goes around the room and gives everyone a chance to say something – whether it is kudos, asking for clarification or what they would like to see at next year’s meeting – and it is expected for everyone to say something. The key is that it is okay to say very little (even “someone else already said what I was going to say”) and this is part of the agenda labeled “round table,” so everyone has a heads up that it will be happening. We have a mix of engineers field managers and field staff, so not everyone is used to public speaking, but I have yet to see/hear about anyone feeling uncomfortable about this.

      I think it also helps that the department managers help to create an atmosphere year round of allowing people to speak up and publicly praising while quietly criticizing.

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      1. Shadow

        to me this is something you learn with experience. When leaders ask you to do something what you should hear is “go do this unless there’s a good business reason we shouldn’t or can’t that I don’t already know about”

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        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I don’t think that’s true across the board. In a healthy culture, it’s fine to sometimes say “eh, I don’t really want to do this because of X.” Good managers want to hear that stuff. And of course, when good managers explicitly say something is optional, they’re telling the truth.

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        2. JamieS

          I think that depends on context. I wouldn’t take OP’s situation to be a directive but if my manager asks me if I want to take over a project or informs me she’s decided I should​ volunteer to take on an associate I’d consider those to more or less be directives.

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          1. Us, Too

            This isn’t how good managers communicate, though. A good manager who asks if you want to take over a project is genuinely asking what you want. It’s not a directive. A good manager issues a directive by literally issuing one. Like this: “I’m assigning you the xyz project.” Similarly, a good manager isn’t likely to ever say something like “I’ve decided you should volunteer”.

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            1. Shadow

              I’ve never met a manager who thinks highly of someone who says no because “I don’t want to.” similary I’ve never met a high performer who would ever say “I don’t want to”.

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              1. Jessica

                No, but there are definitely ways to phrase a rebuttal in such a way where, instead of saying “I don’t want to because of XYZ,” you say, “I think that’s a good idea, but I have concerns about XYZ. What if we tried ABC instead?” or “Let me look into this further and see if there’s a different way we could solve this.” Then the focus is on “How can we best address this challenge?” and makes you look like a problem-solver, not someone who “doesn’t want to”. (Even if the latter is the truth.)

                And of course, every job has projects that you gotta do even though you don’t want to, and that’s life. You just have to repeat, “This is not a commentary on my professional ability” to yourself and crank it out.

                Reply
              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                High performers are exactly the people who can say “I don’t want to” and have the standing to do it.

                Obviously that’s not the full sentence — it’s more like “to be totally transparent, I’d rather not do this because of X.” And you can’t say it constantly. But if you have capital, you can spend on this kind of thing.

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            2. JamieS

              That’s all well and good but even if my manager is legitimately asking what I want I’d still interpret it as heavily suggesting I should accept unless there’s a compelling reason not to and I think that’s a reasonable interpretation.

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    1. PizzaDog

      Could have been solved with a “Jane, I’d love to hear what you think.” vs an eternity of awkward silence where no one’s speaking up, though. If it wasn’t actually voluntary, the manager should have just called on people. Sucks for the person called on, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

      Reply
  4. DrPeteLoomis

    I would have been so tempted to make my feedback something like, “This part right now where we’re just sitting around waiting for people to speak up is not an effective use of anyone’s time. Other than that, though, I felt like XYZ went well.”

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    1. Trix

      I would have been tempted too, and depending on my standing in the office, I may actually have said something to that effect. It definitely wouldn’t be appropriate in every workplace though.

      I wonder if there is something the OP could have said in the moment, or if this type of thing would just be better bringing up later?

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        1. the gold digger

          I had the boss who couldn’t handle the truth. I wish I had figured that out before I gave my honest assessment of the day-long meeting on corrective action reports and the filing of, none of which applied to my marketing job.

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          1. Stephanie

            Yeah, you have to really know your boss/organization. And even then, the downsides are worse than the upside if it backfires.

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          2. Unlucky

            Or they can only handle the truth in private, admit such a truth to you and still only ask for feedback in large groups. And then ask why you didn’t bring up the negative aspect earlier. Maybe I’m just wildly unlucky or maybe I am a problem child but giving honest feedback that wasn’t roses and sunshine never resulted in a fix in my experience.

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            1. Jessesgirl72

              This.

              I mean, it would be nice if they didn’t then ask for feedback they can’t handle, but you’re almost always going to be better off giving negative feedback privately, rather than embarrassing a Higher Up in front of the entire team.

              And sometimes it’s not the feedback itself, or even the timing, but how you present it.

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              1. the gold digger

                Exactly. I would recommend lying and rating the meeting as a 5! So useful! rather than saying, “Hmm. Maybe a 3? Because even though it’s interesting to understand how this process works for the rest of the organization, it is not something I have ever had to use in my role.”

                I will never ever give anything less than a glowing public review again. Ever.

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                1. Kyrielle

                  Yep. “It was really interesting – I learned a lot of new information!”

                  (…that I never needed to know, and still don’t need to know, but hey, it’s interesting. I doubt it will ever be relevant, though….)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yeah. I would be inclined to raise it afterward—putting someone on the spot in front of a group like that (even if they’re the person creating the awkward tension) can backfire in some spectacular ways.

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    2. Sam

      I once interrupted such an excruciating silence with, “Would it be ok if we took some time to think about this and email you feedback? It doesn’t seem like anyone else has thoughts they feel prepared to share right now.” With our boss, this actually worked pretty well, but he makes an effort to accommodate the fact that, unlike him, most people in our office need/want time to ruminate before sharing their thoughts (and that is literally the most useful thing I’ve seen come out of an in-office personality test!)

      Reply
  5. Camellia

    I have two words for this person – Survey. Monkey.

    Seriously, this is a great, no-cost, way of setting up some questions and text boxes to allow people to submit feedback, and is entirely appropriate/professional. My large, by-the-book company uses this all the time.

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    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Surveys are good for some things, but in this kind of context there’s value in having it be a group discussion, or at least in having thoughts shared with the group.

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      1. Liet-Kynes

        I submit that this is not one of those times, at least if this boss wants constructive feedback. Giving someone above you in a hierarchy feedback about her own event, possibly negative feedback, and while being put on the spot, is not going to be a expression of genuine, thoughtful feedback. The pressure to be positive and say the first thing that comes to mind is going to be strong. If you want a roomful of people telling you did great and gamely nodding along with each other, a group discussion might be just the thing, but.

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  6. Purplesaurus

    Because the 5 or so people who speak up first almost always already said everything there was to say, my go-to in these situations is, “I agree with Suzy. [Restate thing.] That was useful.”

    If you wanted 40 unique thoughts then you should have done something more personally engaging for 40 unique people.

    Reply
      1. paul

        more than 5, maybe. But do you really expect 40 people to give good, distinct feedback on a course they all just took, on the spot without forewarning? Seems silly to me. I’d bet dollars to donuts after the first dozen or eighteen people most of what’s going to be said will have been said.

        If you want to incorporate a speaking exercise at something like this, do it, but this seems really poorly thought out.

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      2. SarahTheEntwife

        I guess it depends on how well it went and what types of feedback people have. From the description given here I’d be wondering how to politely give the feedback that my day could have been way better spent actually doing my job.

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      3. Sam

        For an event that (it sounds like?) only consisted of a single speaker followed by 2 discussion groups, it doesn’t strike me as a small number of comments at all. Only 3 things happened, and the last 2 were related/would have had much the same structure and potential issues, it sounds like. How many unique, relevant comments can 40 people make?

        Especially if, as in my experience, the first few people start off very broad and general comments. If the first 5 people hit on things like “I wish the speaker’s presentation had been in such-and-such a format,” “here’s how the day could have been structured better,” and “I’d have preferred if the discussions were directed a different way,” by the time you get 7 or 8 people down the line, something would have had to go really wrong or you’d really have to be nitpicking to come up with unique constructive criticisms.

        I can see adding another few people on top of that if you count people who give only positive feedback, but that’s usually even more vague stuff like “it was informative and interesting, and I feel like I learned a lot”. That covers a lot of ground that no one else can tread without sounding repetitive.

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    1. Antilles

      Yeah, the 40 people part threw me too. That’s a lot of people to be hoping for useful feedback from.
      My go-to is to pick out some obscure reference or minor talking point during the presentation and remember something about it. Then when I’m the tenth person to say something and all the real points have been covered, I can always pull out “Her mention of growing Chocolate Teapot Market in rural Alabama was interesting, I’d never really thought of the potential there”.

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      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes. If someone made 40 of us do a go-around, I would reach “please, I would rather watch paint peel off the wall” levels of agitation about 12 people in. If she wanted more feedback, there are so many other models she could use (e.g., have people form small groups and report back, do a smaller go around, tell people this isn’t optional). Keeping people in agonizing silence for 20 minutes is really really frustrating.

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        1. Chinook

          Having been through this type of round table with more than 40 people, I actually found it interesting partially because the group there were very eclectic (a mix of engineers and field staff). It also helped that most people kept their comments short and that the chair asked what should be included in next year’s meeting (and was taking notes – so much was suggested that it may have to expand to 3 days). At the same time, “what XX said applies to me too” was also an acceptable answer.

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  7. Misquoted

    I used to design, plan, and facilitate this sort of meeting as a small part of my job (meaning I’m no expert in this). As an extrovert (who also does get something out of the “team-building” and “group discussion” activities that many people dislike or even dread), it took me a while to learn how to design the sort of meeting that others wouldn’t cringe at.

    Written feedback is of course great for many reasons, but I agree that it’s reasonable to ask for verbal feedback from the group. And a bit of silence while waiting for responses, while uncomfortable, is sometimes okay. But A BIT — not what was described by the LW. A better way to get verbal feedback might be to give it a frame (ask for one word from each participant to describe the event; finish a sentence; ask for one possible next action). Or make it truly optional.

    There are a hundred other little gimmicks, but most of those will be distasteful to introverts or others who just dislike this sort of touchy-feely activity. Honestly, one key factor is to know your audience (and thus make it more pleasant for them).

    Another is to make it safe to give honest feedback. If someone feels that negative feedback will result in a negative managerial reaction, even the most rah-rah extrovert (like me) will keep quiet.

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    1. Anonymity

      With 40 people and a full day event like this, I suspect that between people who would rather be at the office getting work done and introverts who dread day.long.events.with.group.discussions, there is probably some negative feedback in the wings that contributed to people not wanting to speak up.

      Given the manager’s behavior here, there are going to be more people dreading this event (or even similar events, if run by this manager) going forward because they’ll expect more of the same.

      Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            There is nothing that everyone is going to like, though. It doesn’t mean you can get out of everything you dislike.

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            1. fposte

              Sure, if you don’t dislike it very much. Basically, you seem to be implying that dread is only something that happens when you’re insufficiently prepared, and I think it’s pretty common to dread something you intensely dislike even if you’re prepared–it’s the negative anticipation of an experience you find deeply unpleasant. If it’s the word that’s throwing you, sub in “negatively anticipating” instead of “dreading.”

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        1. Anonymity

          If you know how to reason with introversion, do tell. Even if I’m fine in the moment, I hate being put on the spot and I dread the mental fog and exhaustion that will be the result of an event like the LW describes. One day event = 3-4 days mental recovery time for me.

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          1. fposte

            I don’t know that this is specifically introversion–I’m an introvert and I’m perfectly happy speaking up in a group.

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          2. Liet-Kynes

            I’m an introvert too, but frankly, that only goes as far as it goes. Yeah, we need time to recharge after intense social interactions and we hate being put on the spot. Life will require us to step up to those situations regularly, though, so best power through.

            Reply
            1. Argh!

              You could say “I find this kind of thing very tiring” or “I need a nap” and that would be your feedback. You don’t have to make the rest of the group hate you for 20 minutes just because you are tired.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I’d be annoyed the person who was bad at leading the discussion, not my fellow victims of her ineptitude.

                Reply
              2. Sam

                Another perspective: both of your suggestions would sound petulant and unprofessional in my office culture. If the organizer of an event like this is looking for feedback, the closest thing that would still come across as useful and relevant would be something like, “In the future, we could probably allocate less time to the discussion portion” or “I think with some improvements to efficiency we could get this down to a half-day event,” and it would have to come from someone with sufficient authority that they had the standing to make those kinds of decisions. Anyone who just went “This was very tiring and I need a nap” would, at best, have to play it off as a joke, because saying something like that sincerely in a group forum would not go over well.

                Reply
          3. LQ

            Yeah, I know I’ll need time after, in fact I’ve gotten a lot better at planning days after it. (If I could work from home the 2 days after an event like this it would be perfect.) Sometimes I’ll take a day off. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to opt out of doing my job. Some extroverts jobs require them to sit quietly and read and reflect and I’d be just as much sometimes your job is to do the thing that “costs” you, not the thing that charges you up. Work events like this are expensive as hell. But I want a job that is a leadership role and that’s going to require more of them. So I need to come up with a strategy to handle that. Being an introvert isn’t an excuse for not doing your job. It is a reason to speak up one-on-one and say, “It would be a lot more beneficial to the group, and to improving the quality of the feedback, if you asked everyone to stop and take a minute to reflect and come up with one piece of feedback and then go around the room to give the feedback.” (Or even to say at the start of the day, or before that people should take notes throughout and feedback will be requested at the end of the session, give people a chance to prepare.)

            Reply
            1. Madame X

              People confuse introversion with shyness or social awkwardness all the time. I know plenty of introverts who are not shy. They are quite skilled at speaking in front of an audience or leading/managing groups. Some people lean too much on their introversion as an excuse for social ineptitude.

              Reply
        2. Observer

          No, because even if you prepare, dealing with unreasonable people is generally not pleasant. And the director was unreasonable.

          Also, it’s unpleasant for more people to deal with people who are passive aggressive and / or expect you to read their mind, and who also treat you and your group like naughty children. You can’t really prepare for that.

          Lastly, given what she was asking for it may not be practical to come up with feedback in advance, unless you just decide to say “The day was a real learning experience” or the like.

          Reply
          1. Argh!

            You have those awkward moments to prepare in! You can think of something to say while the other 39 people are weighing in. This kind of thing doesn’t sound like something that requires excessive profundity. Just think of something and say it!

            Reply
            1. Sam

              You really don’t think it’s a problem that, after all the people who had useful feedback to give had given it, everyone else had to sit there in silence for 20 minutes waiting for the event organizer to decide they were finished? There’s no reason to keep everyone for 20 minutes so people can go through the ritual of blabbing about inconsequential things in the name of “feedback.”

              Reply
              1. Argh!

                I think it’s a problem that has two causes: 1) the boss was inept and 2) some people didn’t twig to the situation and play along. So what if they refuse to speak because they think what other people are saying is inconsequential? Will their smug self-satisfaction make their work life better? It’s snobbishness and has no place in the workplace.

                Reply
                1. Sam

                  No, it sounds like there was an embarrassed silence, not a smug one, and that the reason people weren’t speaking was because they didn’t have anything to say, not that they thought everyone else’s comments were pointless.

            2. Hrovitnir

              I really don’t understand this statement (nor why you’re being so aggressive about this topic). There is only so much feedback one can give. For my credentials, I am an anxious probable-extrovert (ambivert? I am also pretty over this introvert/extrovert thing) who is good at projecting confidence when presenting and answering questions. I also go blank when put on the spot and have no feedback other than “it was tolerable, I agree with the initial points made”.

              You can say it’s easy as many times as you like, that won’t make it true. Even if I knew ahead of time that we were going to be grilled (which is how I see expecting feedback from every. single. person), if other people made the points I had noted I wouldn’t easily be able to think of new ones in this situation. The sheer awkwardness would combine with my deep hatred of redundancy to lead me incapable of making up a throwaway answer.

              To be fair, I would probably make some noises about what the other people said and how I agree/disagree in the freaking 20 minutes of pain described here. I just really take umbrage at the idea that there are infinite comments to be made on a casual gathering to catch up and get on the same page.

              Speaking of which I think people should be wary of making assumptions about how expressions of feelings on here translate to actions in real life. Just because someone expresses distaste at something doesn’t mean that they are incapable of dealing with it in reality.

              Reply
      1. Chinook

        ” I suspect that between people who would rather be at the office getting work done and introverts who dread day.long.events.with.group.discussions, ”

        I would say it depends. If this is an annual meeting with a purpose, this may be the only time the group can get together to discuss what they do. In our case, it is also a regulatory requirement to share findings from the previous year and the chair could either do dry presentations only (and some of them will be just because of what they are) or he can encourage presentations that are informative, interesting and interactive.

        True round tables where everyone is given the opportunity to speak up are part of that interactiveness. In our case, it is the only time when a field guy attending for the first time may feel comfortable speaking up (because meeting with office big whigs can be intimidating until they actually meet us). By going around the U-shaped conference tables, they can see what other people at their level are saying and be able to come to the conclusion that we really do mean it when we say we want to hear what they are thinking.

        Plus, it is nice to hear the voice attached to the face because very often I only hear their voices on the phone and I like knowing who I am talking to the rest of the year.

        Reply
    2. a Gen X manager

      YES! I’d add that not just safe to give honest feedback, but safe just to participate in the group period (for those not inclined to otherwise). I typically avoid actively participating / speaking in group functions (extreme introvert here), but if the environment is comfortable and the speaker has created a safe interpersonal space where people are treated respectfully by both the speaker and the audience and the topic is compelling I’ll naturally be inclined to contribute to the conversation.

      ALSO, when you force participation be prepared for canned go-to answers that are a waste of time.

      Reply
    3. Surprising Parties

      I almost wonder if part of this was she had scheduled x block of time for discussion and was determined to use up that time accordingly. So weird otherwise.

      Reply
  8. Antilles

    The weird part about the whole concept? Forcing people to talk by awkwardly staring at them makes it even *less* likely the open and beneficial discussion you’re trying to get.
    >People who are unnerved by awkwardness will toss out useless comments just to say anything to get this over with.
    >People who are uncomfortable speaking in general are going to feel like they need to have something incredible to say something now (at this point, it’d be really dumb to just toss out a generic “oh I thought A and B were good advice”).
    >People who spoke up initially get bored with the silence so even if something valuable is said, they’re already mentally zoned out.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      The introverts need to buck up and speak out and get it over with. If someone has social phobia, then that’s a different thing. Merely being an introvert is no excuse for not being a participant. We all have to do things that are a bit unnatural to us in our jobs. Introverts don’t get a pass any more than extroverts do.

      Reply
      1. AMPG

        The problem is that the boss very clearly set one expectation (sharing is optional) and then immediately made it clear through her actions that she had a different expectation. People aren’t likely to step up when they feel blindsided.

        Reply
        1. Careful reader

          “She asked that some people who normally don’t share their thoughts say something ”

          I don’t see this as saying “sharing is optional.” The manager asked for feedback from the silent majority.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            She started with asking for “to hear feedback from people who were comfortable sharing with the group”–IOW, sharing began as optional. Then it became mandatory.

            Reply
          2. AMPG

            Even then, “some people” isn’t the same as “everyone,” so it’s reasonable to think that a few more responses should have satisfied her.

            Reply
        2. LQ

          Yeah, this is a real problem. The boss was incredibly unclear, even so far as to be misleading, about her expectations. That’s a point to raise. (Maybe not say, hey stop being a lying liar who lies about what you want!) Saying something like, “It would be really helpful to let everyone know that they will be expected to share something and then give them a few minutes to reflect on what they learned before going around the room.” (The few minutes also means that people can jot something down and then listen instead of trying to scramble to come up with something and not listening to others talk.)

          Reply
      2. Jodi

        Yeah, honestly I’m with you on that. Just because someone is an extrovert, that doesn’t mean they want to be responsible for carrying the conversation every time there is a group meeting. Just because someone is an extrovert, doesn’t mean they have something valuable to add to the conversation. It seems like a lot of people want to be able to just say “I’m an introvert!” and be able to use that as a free pass to never participate.

        Reply
        1. ENTP

          Exactly, and this is 100% why people think that extroverts are more primed for success in the workplace than introverts.

          Reply
        2. Lunch Meat

          Those people’s managers should get with them one-on-one and encourage them to participate more in meetings if it’s something they need to work on. Expectations should be clear. No one here is saying that people should be allowed to refuse to speak all the time, but saying that this specific situation was poorly managed.

          Reply
        3. Liet-Kynes

          Yes, yes, yes. It felt like there was this spate of “I’m an introvert and this is what you jabbering, manic extroverts need to know about us sensitive, misunderstood souls” articles that went viral over the past few years, and it made this extrovert want to scream. Yeah, I get energy from being alone and I need to take a good long hike with the dog after a week of dealing with people, but FFS, I’m not exempt from baseline social and professional obligations, including interacting with extroverts.

          Reply
              1. Gov Worker

                Ok, now I don’t understand. I thought you meant extroverts were the jabbering, manic ones, but you are referring to a sub group of introverts, I guess.

                Reply
              1. Liet-Kynes

                I’m an introvert who didn’t particularly agree with or like all the articles about how extroverts just don’t understand introverts because they’re manic and chatty and expect us to talk and stuff.

                Reply
      3. Observer

        I think you have it backwards. The problem here is not that there are introverts who are not interested in speaking out. The problem is that the boss expected people to read her mind than made things awkward when they didn’t.

        I’m no introvert, but I don’t speak up if I don’t have anything new to add. If someone said “any thoughts?” I wouldn’t speak up. If that person then made it awkward, I’d be even less inclined to say anything, and if I did it would be quite weird. On the other hand, if the person in charge said up front “I’d like to hear each person’s thoughts.” I’d be cheerful to note that I agreed with whoever.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          I do many things that I’m not interested in doing because it’s what I’m being paid to do. If the boss wants my teapot report to be a certain format, I put it into that format. If the boss wants me to speak or not speak that’s what I do. I wish I had a boss that let me do only what I want to do but that’s not how the boss-subordinate relationship works.

          Reply
            1. Argh!

              It seems like LW figured out that the boss wanted everyone to speak up. As soon as you figure that out, then the option of not speaking up has been removed.

              Reply
              1. Observer

                If you think it’s reasonable to make people figure out what you want, punish people who don’t figure it out, and blame the people who are being told one thing and expected to do another for not doing the other thing, then I hop you don’t have anyone who reports to you or who needs your good graces to do their job.

                Reply
                1. Argh!

                  It doesn’t matter if it’s reasonable or not. The boss is the boss. Being silent when asked to speak up is just being a jerk.

      4. LadyKelvin

        This isn’t about being an introvert or an extrovert. Neither means “I speak up in meetings” or “I don’t”. Introverts just generally find social situations exhausting (but rewarding!) and extroverts find them energizing. So let’s not even bring that into conversation, its a red herring. Not speaking up in a group is much more about not having anything useful to add to the conversation. If I have something to say, I say it. If I don’t, I’m not going to say anything unless you make me. And if you tell me you wont make me, I won’t say anything because I can’t read your mind.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Extroverts can’t read your mind and I suspect many of them aren’t good at reading body language either. It’s an obligation of introverts to put their mind at ease.

          Reply
      5. a Gen X manager

        Argh!,
        I totally disagree with you about introverts need to “buck up” about this and respectfully suggest that you don’t seem to understand the processing differences between introverts and extroverts and thtat there seems to be a judgmental edge in your opinions about introverts.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          I’m an introvert. You seem to be confusing introversion with social anxiety.

          At work, introverts have to speak up and extroverts have to shut up. You don’t get a pass on participating just because you find it a bit uncomfortable or would rather not. I’d rather not do a lot of what I have to do at work, but I have to do it so I do it.

          Some of the posters here seem to want to force the rest of the world change the rules for them. That’s not how it works.

          Reply
          1. Jessica

            I agree, and not just because nobody should get out of participating, but because of its value for one’s own career. Overcoming social anxiety to the point where you can communicate effectively is a huge boon to one’s professional toolkit. I’m an introvert too, but being able to move the conversation along will prevent scenarios exactly like LW described.

            Reply
            1. Argh!

              The days when you could hide in your office all day, collect a paycheck, and escape when the whistle blows are long over!

              Reply
  9. Liet-Kynes

    This is some bullshit. Sitting there glaring at a silent, uncomfortable group after you told them that feedback was voluntary is playing head games, not getting feedback, and I’d lay money on the department head doing it purely as a power/dominance trip.

    Reply
    1. a Gen X manager

      Yes! I can’t decide which is worse: the twenty minutes waiting or the writing names down AFTER they’ve said something as though the employees have crossed some arbitrary BS threshold.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      It’s possibly about dominance/head-games, but if there’s no other indication that this person is manipulative in this way, I think there’s a good chance it’s just poor facilitation/communication.

      Writing names down is weird, though.

      Reply
    3. Argh!

      I’d say the people who aren’t speaking up are playing a game. They know they are required to say something. Why are they making everyone else suffer?

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        “At the end of the day, our department head wanted to hear feedback from people who were comfortable sharing with the group their thoughts about the day— how we thought it went, how to improve future days, etc. A few people shared their thoughts. She asked that some people who normally don’t share their thoughts say something (as in most groups, there are extrovert and introverts—I am of the latter). It took a few minutes but a couple people eventually shared.”

        So, if I heard that and had no strong thoughts, or if my thoughts were negative but not terribly useful (“this is boring and irrelevant to my job” or “really, I just want more caffeine”) and I was worried about how they’d be received, I would absolutely stay quiet. Because the boss asked for feedback from people who were comfortable sharing their thoughts, the implication is anyone who is not doesn’t need to. Then she asks “that some people who normally don’t share their thoughts say something”.

        At no point did she just say she wanted feedback from everyone. She implied it by her actions while her words said something else.

        That’s game-playing.

        And for the record, it would make me so uncomfortable I would be even less likely to speak up. I would be uncomfortable. I would feel like I needed something relevant to say (when it’s optional, just speaking up to me-too someone else’s thoughts is kinda weird), but also something totally safe (because clearly the boss is a bit of a manipulative whack-a-doo instead of being direct in this circumstance, which means anything negative is really not safe here).

        I probably would speak up to get out of there, but no, staying silent isn’t playing a game. The boss has inherently made the situation unsafe and unpredictable while still claiming that it’s optional. Seriously, _if it is mandatory then say that_.

        I feel like you’re normalizing the boss’s behavior here. It’s not normal; it’s not a reasonable way to run this stuff; it is harder than just *asking everyone to speak up* (and even that will be uncomfortable for some, but at least the expectations and scenario are clearer).

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          Excellent point about normalizing the boss’s behavior. That’s the whole issue – if she had just been honest about her expectations from the beginning, there would have been no reason to write to AAM.

          Reply
          1. Argh!

            So… the question of whether to say something to the boss privately is totally valid. But…. bosses acting like jerks *is* normal in some workplaces, so there’s the implied part 2: what to do when the boss won’t change their tactics or understand. What to do is play along, come up with something to say, and don’t make the other 39 coworkers who cooperated hate you.

            Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yes! People who are told that speaking up is voluntary are not playing games by following that instruction. Clearly they didn’t know they were expected to say something until everything became weird and awkward. Generally, bosses should say what they mean and make their expectations clear to employees instead of saying something to the contrary and hoping people will read their minds.

          Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            Call me nuts, but I generally assume that people mean what they say, and if they don’t, then they can twist when it backfires.

            Reply
      2. Squeeble

        I doubt they’re playing a game. They’re understandably confused by the boss saying that the exercise is optional.

        Reply
      3. Liane

        Read the other comments–there are a lot of them that will answer your question, if it was not rhetorical. :)

        But just say[ing] something creates another problem mentioned multiple times in the comments–Manager/Company aren’t going to get anything useful after a handful have answered. People are going to start repeating their colleagues, making throw-away remarks, saying what they think the higher-ups/organizers want to hear, etc.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Out of 40 people, even if only 1/4 have something valuable to say that’s 10 valuable comments that the boss can use when considering how to organize next year’s event. Not everyone is as cynical as the commentariat here.

          Reply
      4. Rusty Shackelford

        I’d say the people who aren’t speaking up are playing a game. They know they are required to say something.

        “You don’t have to say anything, but I’m going to sit here and stare at you until you do.” Who, exactly, is playing a game?

        Reply
      5. Anonymity

        Yes clearly their intent was to make everyone else suffer when the manager is the one who indicated it was optional and then changed her mind and made everyone sit around for 20 minutes.

        Reply
          1. Jessica

            The blame falls on the meeting facilitator for not efficiently moving the agenda along. In this case, it was the manager, absolutely. The manager should’ve said something like, “Okay, I’d like to hear from 5 more people. Best answer gets a candy bar/leave work 15 minutes early,” or whatever sounds like a good motivation. And then when you get your 5 answers, you move on to the next item. Wasting people’s time just to prove a point is a lousy way to do anything.

            Reply
          2. Annie Moose

            Yep. If the manager changes her mind sometime during that 20 minutes, she should tell everyone that.

            Reply
          3. SusanIvanova

            As soon as the silence got awkward. That can happen after one minute, but 5 is tops. The manager is in charge of the meeting, it’s their responsibility to keep things moving and make it clear what they expect.

            Reply
      6. Liet-Kynes

        They don’t know they’re required to say something, because they were not told it was a requirement, because the boss explicitly just asked for those who were comfortable sharing to share. If, after all that, you’re pressuring people to share, you’re either peeing on a tree or trying to wrap people around your finger, and either way you’re being an asshole.

        And if you really have nothing particularly useful to share, and you’ve been told that sharing is discretionary, then it makes a certain sense…..not to share. “Uh, well, it was okay I guess” provides no useful feedback. Why pressure people to say something if they’re not inclined to?

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Because they sincerely want to know what the quiet people are thinking. If you just say “I haven’t developed an opinion on this” then they know what you’re thinking.

          Reply
            1. Argh!

              No, silence gives no information at all. You could be thinking of something brilliant and nobody would know. They might wonder why you’re keeping secrets. They could worry that you don’t like them. Silence isn’t a message unless it’s the “silent treatment,” which is not a message you want to send.

              Reply
      7. LadyKelvin

        They don’t know they are going to sit there for 20 minutes. And they are probably worried that if they say something then the time they sit there will extend because obviously they just proved that waiting so long works. It is easy to look back and say “why didn’t they just say something” but in the moment they had no idea what was expected of them because the expectations were not as advertised. I wouldn’t have said anything either if I was in that position.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          I think after a few minutes, the blame is on the part of the silent people who refuse to speak up. Once it’s evident that everyone *must* speak then everyone must speak.

          Reply
      1. Argh!

        Yep people get thrown into these roles without a lot of training. If the supervisor is also an introvert, they probably don’t have a lot of social skill to make a mid-stream correction.

        Reply
  10. nnn

    This is one of those things where the people in charge aren’t using their authority, to the detriment of everyone. The manager or the department head or the person who is chairing the meeting absolutely has the authority to say “Let’s go around the room and everyone say something”, or to say “Jane, what do you think?” if Jane hasn’t spoken yet.

    But instead they’re just staring expectantly at the room and making the situation awkward for everyone.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      Yes, that. I mean, we actually did have a meeting recently with a 15-minute question and answer period and only 5 minutes of questions, and they did stare awkwardly around the room for a few minutes before wrapping it up, but (a) usually our meetings have more questions, (b) I think they were trying to make sure they gave a chance for someone who was formulating a question to jump in, and (c) there were 500+ employees in that room, so clearly they weren’t expecting everyone to ask something. It was obviously impersonal in that case, and it was _still_ awkward.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        Often, people who have something to say but are hesitant will jump in just to break the silence, and what they have to say can be very interesting.

        Reply
    1. Mike C.

      Yeah, I keep getting the impression that the director was upset that everyone wasn’t speaking up in an organic fashion, but didn’t want to actually demand anything because it would mean that it didn’t happen organically and thus wasn’t as special or magical or whatever.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Or she just sucks at eliciting discussion. I had a very smart professor in grad school who could not lead a discussion to save his life; the room was filled with silence that I initially felt as awkward and decided just to reclaim as peaceful. I used to spend the hour taking notes on everything he did wrong so as not to do the same things.

        Reply
  11. Anonymous 40

    The question is, what’s the main objective? If it’s to get everyone to participate in a group activity, definitely make it a “go around the room” thing so it’s clear everyone’s expected to participate. If the point is to get everyone’s feedback, make time to have an individual conversation with the people who didn’t speak up publicly. I’m rarely afraid to speak up in groups, despite being introverted, but my manager gets more candid feedback one-on-one than in a group. I’ve also found that it’s a good way to find out what the quiet but insightful people think, which can be some of the best feedback.

    Reply
  12. Wanderer

    Feeling forced to give feedback makes me tend towards saying something uncontrovertial, because I don’t want to be further interrogated.

    If I have the option to speak up, and I don’t use it, it is either that I don’t have anything to say, it’s already been said, or I’m not comfortable.

    For these kind of off-site working or team building days, I find that I can’t evaluate the experience properly until I’m back in my normal role and can see if there was anything I can apply to what I’m working on.

    Reply
  13. Achil

    Oof! This is relevant to my work life right now. I’m new to a position with little previous experience but within the same company I’ve been with a while so I’ve spent most meetings in this new position paying attention, taking notes, figuring out how things work in this business setting which is very different from my last one. I’m also young and my previous position was a bad toxic office which which shredded my self confidence. Lately my Grand Boss has taken to specifically calling me out for ideas in meeting not “Do you have anything to add?” but “I want four ideas from you after this break” or “Give me an idea, Achil.” It’s embarrassing to be called out like that in front of not only co workers but people from outside the organization. I know part of the problem is I just need to throw something out there before he can ask but I’m also trying to absorb and feel like I don’t have much to add at the moment since I have no expertise. I really sympathize with an entire group of people getting pushed to the same thing.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      It’s great that they want a newcomer’s perspective. I work in the opposite environment where anyone hired in the past five years still gets patronized & ignored.

      Reply
    2. Jessica

      To put a positive spin on this, a) you’ll get better at it, and b) this is actually an opportunity to show your Grand Boss how you think. I suspect that’s what he’s sorta getting at when he asks you for your ideas. The best part about new people is that they have a fresh perspective–they see systemic problems more clearly than people do who have been around a long time. Being a veteran (so to speak) provides the benefit of context, and I’m sure your hesitation is mainly because you’re still trying to achieve that sense of context, but I can assure you that even if you don’t have it, the veterans will be able to put your thoughts into the appropriate context. And voila, a fresh perspective + context = new ways to solve problems. And you do have some context because your previous experience was within the same company.

      You know more than you think you do. So even if it sounds kinda crazy or out of left field…give an idea! Spend some time thinking about what you would do if you were in charge. Write them down (I have a “Note” going on my iPad). This is actually really beneficial for teaching yourself to think strategically. You know what the team is trying to do, so how would you do it? Good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, truly. Your previous toxic work environment is a legit example of how workplaces can really shoot themselves in the foot competitively by crushing employee initiative…but it sounds like Grand Boss is giving you an opportunity to see that your current team is not that way.

      Reply
    1. Yorick

      We did a forced-conversation meeting once at OldJob. He had come up with like 4 or 5 discussion questions, but he sat around waiting for more people to answer #1 that we never got to the rest.

      Reply
  14. Yorick

    I hate when they ask for feedback on the team-building (or whatever) day anyway. I’ve never done one that wasn’t a huge waste of my time, and I’ve never had a manager who would be open to hearing that these things aren’t the best thing ever.

    Reply
      1. a Gen X manager

        ^ THIS!
        At LastJob my CEO signed my team up for a Waste of Time Team Building / BS Customer Service Skillbuilding course and we completed feedback forms at the end of the session and we ALL wrote the obligatory “it was fantastic” feedback, which was forwarded to our CEO by the training vendor. I laughed when CEO mentioned the positive feedback – BIG mistake. He was furious and called every one of us dishonest and we had a follow up training session about ethics. OUCH.

        Reply
    1. Antilles

      The real problem is that typically the person who’s asking for feedback is the same person who *planned the event*. Not exactly the best conduit for open, honest feedback.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        It depends on the person. Hopefully they are actually willing to hear all kinds of feedback. I would also hope they know their staff well enough to consider the source if some outlier says something ridiculous or mean-spirited.

        Reply
  15. TootsNYC

    Maybe frame it to your boss as, “I’m one of those people who is reticent and not inclined to communicate in those situations. I feel I have some insider knowledge about what motivates people like me, and this is what I’d suggest to her if she wants to be more successful in getting feedback from people like us.”

    And then I might also say: “Some people, especially introverts, think deeply before they speak, and so they may still be processing the experience; their best insights might come later.”

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      ooh, and I just saw a comment above.

      Maybe also add: “Being on the spot like that means no one is going to give negative feedback. Even if they thought Department Head would be OK with it, they’re going to look bad in front of everyone else. So if someone like me had something slightly critical to add, after that experience, they won’t even bring that feedback in private now. Which means there might be useful info that she never gets.”

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        I don’t think so–introverts may not be done thinking in 20 minutes.

        I think it’s an argument for creating an avenue for feedback to arrive later. Or for seeking out the introverts and asking for feedback.

        Reply
  16. NoNameYet

    I’m in favor of making it clear everyone has to share if that’s what the leader wants, but whatever you do, don’t do the “popcorn” style method of getting everyone to share, wherein someone shares and then randomly calls out a name to share next. As an introvert, not knowing when I’m going to share makes it that much harder to gather my thoughts. If it’s a predictable around a table or down a row format at least I know exactly how much time I have left to think!

    Reply
  17. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    Ugh – honestly this sounds like my nightmare. I would never be one of the first ones to speak up and I’ve written here before that I avoid talking in a group if it all possible. Generally after the first 5 or 6 people volunteer something they’ve hit all the points I would have said anyway. Going around the room (as Alison said) would be marginally better because then I could say that I agreed with Jane or Fergus. But there’s no point in just yelling out ditto when they are just looking for volunteers to say something.

    Reply
  18. Argh!

    If this is a regular thing, introverts can come prepared to say something and just go through with it. Extroverts need to learn to shut up and introverts need to learn to speak up. It’s just one of those things in the work world. The boss may not be doing it in the best possible way, but the introverts who are holding things up are as much to blame. If the silence is uncomfortable, then break it!

    Reply
    1. LoiraSafada

      Breaking the silence for the sake of breaking it is no better than people without constructive, actionable advice keeping their mouths shut. Just because someone is talking doesn’t mean they actually have anything to say. The meeting was ‘held up’ because the boss isn’t particularly good at her job, and pushy people generally don’t make people more willing to speak up.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        No, if the person in charge really wants to hear from everyone, then everyone has to say something. It’s called “The Boss is The Boss” and just deal with it. It’s very possible that this boss won’t respond to whatever LW says and next time it will be the same. Then LW just has to say something to say something. Whether it’s worthless or not in LW’s opinion is not relevant — it’s worth something to the boss.

        Reply
        1. Sputnik

          If the person in charge really wants to hear from everyone, then the person in charge should say, out loud, with their mouth, “I want to hear from everyone.”

          This person did the exact opposite and then expected everyone to magically intuit what she wanted. I’m not sure why you think that’s an effective leadership method.

          Reply
    2. Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya

      “introverts need to learn to speak up”

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      Reply
  19. Lora

    I find that Alison’s “name the behavior” method works here: you can say, in the moment, “well this is awkward. Anyone heard any good jokes lately?” You can soften it a little and say, “there’s been a lot of things to think about today, maybe folks would like to sleep on it and have time to digest the information” or “well I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve learned a lot of new things, I’ll have to think about how I can apply them” or something. You can also be blunter and say, “well…my brain is fried at the end of the day and I’m all out of caffeine, but thanks, this was great”.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      ooooh noooooo don’t point out that it’s awkward in front of everyone! That’s passive-aggressively accusing the boss of doing something wrong and shaming the other quiet people. Saying you’re brain-fried is much preferable to that!

      Reply
      1. Sam

        I think different people prioritize “talking for the sake of making the event organizer look good” lower than you do, to be honest. I would absolutely be one of the silent people in this scenario, and I would absolutely love someone who took over from the organizer doing a poor job of moderating the conversation and smoothly segued into ending the waste of everyone’s time by saying something like that.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          If being silent won’t make the situation horrible for everyone else, then by all means, keep quiet. But if the boss wants to hear from everyone, even if it’s a bad idea and the boss is inept, then say something. It’s not for the sake of making the organizer look good (where did you get that quote from? I didn’t say that)

          Reply
          1. Sam

            I got it from your characterization of returning the awkwardness to sender as “That’s [passive-aggressively] accusing the boss of doing something wrong,” which it sounds like you disapprove of. I disagree that it’s passive-aggressive (it’s more of a straightforward, goals-focused move to get the conversation on track), but either way, there’s no reason to tiptoe around the fact that the organizer is, in fact, doing something wrong here.

            Reply
  20. RVA Cat

    Yeah, well, maybe those 20 minutes of awkward silence ran over the time that had been allotted for Trust Falls….

    Reply
  21. Jeanne

    I know I don’t always handle things well but at that point I would outlasted her. I can wait for 20 minutes the same as she can. I don’t trust giving real feedback to someone like that. I’ve done it before after being scolded for actually speaking up. If pushed, I would say all was fine, no comment. If you want real feedback, treat us with some respect. I bet next year she gets almost no real feedback unless she works on how she treats her employees.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Passive aggressive tactics are not going to make you look better, and they will make everyone else hate you. Just play along. We all have to do that sometimes in life.

      Reply
      1. Sam

        A few times now you’ve said that everyone else must have hated the silent people, but it seems obvious that the moderator was the one dragging things out. I don’t see why anyone would “hate” the people who didn’t speak if they hadn’t been called on.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Both parties are to blame but the boss is the boss and was in control. The other 39 people waiting for #40 to speak up may be annoyed with the boss but they’d really hate the person who won’t play along, especially since everyone else did. The boss made the rules (even if ineptly and incoherently) and the employees have to go along with them. It’s how work works.

          All those other 39 people were essentially being held hostage by the standoff between boss & #40. If I were crossing my legs and needing to pee, I’d be angrier at #40 than at the boss.

          Reply
          1. Sam

            This pretty clearly wasn’t a standoff between the boss and one recalcitrant employee, though. There were many people who didn’t speak. We don’t know how many, but my impression was less than half actually said something – only “a few” shared their thoughts, then “a couple” more chimed in once the awkward silence started. And regardless, again, I don’t see any evidence in the letter that people “hated” the ones who had no comment. The LW certainly thought the awkwardness was all due to the organizer’s weird decision to let them sit there in silence for so long.

            Reply
  22. Sami

    If a manager wants feedback like this, an excellent idea would be to tell (or remind) everyone at the beginning of the day or event. That way the worker bees can jot down notes for later.

    Reply
    1. Myrin

      Yes, this would be key for me.

      I have no problem at all with either speaking up or speaking in front of a group and in such situations, I’m usually (one of) the first(s) to offer my thoughts and opinions (people have referred to be as being the conversational equivalent of an icebreaker).

      However, while I do have a great memory for some things, I have an absolutely terrible time remembering other stuff. So when I participate in something, I might think “Wow, this is neat!” several times a day but then promptly forget about it and I’d have a hard time recalling any of it when asked about them later. But if I know from the beginning that something like this is going to come up, I can jot down (even just mental) notes so that I’m not too terribly blank-brained once it happens.

      Reply
  23. cheeky

    This boss’s approach was bad, but (and I say this as an introvert who has learned to speak up), it can be annoying and disrespectful to be faced by stone-silent employees or coworkers. If you never talk in meetings, it can give the impression that you’re not listening.

    Reply
    1. SarahTheEntwife

      So then that’s an opportunity for the manager to ask the reticent person specific questions at the meeting, or to talk to them about being more proactive in whatever one-on-one performance discussion they have.

      This instance makes it particularly awkward in that the manager was demanding that a group of people speak up, when any individual might not have felt that their “eh, it went ok; I liked that same small-group discussion Fergus and Wakeen did” feedback was sufficiently unique to warrant speaking up in an increasingly weird and hostile environment.

      Reply
    2. LadyKelvin

      There is a big difference between not talking in meetings and giving feedback in a group setting on a training on the spot. The first, I have not problems speaking up and participating in meetings, even in those meetings which are large and include members outside our org, but giving feedback on a workshop if I have none and I’m told its not mandatory, then I’m not going to say anything for sure.

      Reply
    3. Argh!

      Same here. I’m an introvert so I’m often the “quiet one” at the beginning of a brainstorm session because I think inside, not out loud. But then when asked I am forthcoming, even if I don’t think I have something new to add. Giving someone the silent treatment is immature.

      Reply
      1. Liet-Kynes

        No, it’s just returning the awkwardness to sender. Boss was responsible for the weird silence. She had the option to wrap up the feedback session when it became clear it was over with, and she didn’t. Nobody else had the obligation to maintain the charade for her benefit.

        Reply
        1. Sam

          Agreed. If she wanted feedback from everyone, she should have asked for it. Every minute that passed after she didn’t was on her.

          Reply
  24. Andy

    Not Related, Allison please delete if it’s out of bounds:
    There are some really grade-A SciFi fiction character references up in this piece. Thank you to the Vorkosigan and the Liet-Kynes!
    Feeling a part of pop-culture, y’all!

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      When God hath ordained a creature to comment on a particular blog, He causeth that creature’s wants to direct him to that place.

      Reply
  25. Snarkus Aurelius

    During the first staff meeting with a new boss, the boss wanted to hear from everyone what we thought our mission statement (ICK!) was. This was literally the first time everyone was meeting her. No one talked. She mistook that for people not knowing what the mission of our employer was. Not true. Everyone was a little nervous about being put on the spot for such an important question that the new boss may or may not have a prescribed answer for.

    So we dedicated the next few months to figuring out that question. I bathed in my quiet rage during these meetings.

    And, yes, she expected to hear from everyone, which had the unfortunate result of everyone repeating the same answers.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Sometime within those months couldn’t you have 1-on-1 said something about the workplace culture being punitive or whatever the hold-up was? My current workplace is like that. People get punished for saying the wrong thing in a meeting so people don’t speak unless spoken to in certain work groups.

      Reply
  26. Detective Amy Santiago

    I’m the trouble maker who would have flat out spoken up and said “Are we done? Can I go back to work now?”

    Reply
    1. ENTP

      Perhaps you would rather the manager just invited the employees who enjoyed participating to the next retreat, and the employees who don’t want to participate can stay behind and be marginalized?

      If you want a voice, you have to be willing to speak up.

      Reply
      1. Liet-Kynes

        If you want a job, you have to recognize that telling the boss her retreat sucked is probably not a wondrous idea.

        Seriously, demanding that people speak up on pain of getting sidelined is possibly the least motivating idea I can come up with.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yeah, I think there are a few different discussions going on and the issues aren’t the same. Introverts shouldn’t use introversion as an excuse not to contribute, but if you genuinely want good feedback you have to elicit it thoughtfully and not just demand it from people whose livelihoods you control; fixing the first issue isn’t going to be enough to solve the second.

          Reply
        2. zora

          Yeah, seriously. If the boss was smart enough to read between the lines she would know that, if she’s insisting that everyone give their feedback and a bunch of people are silent and not speaking, it’s likely because the only thing they can think of to say is something negative. She should realize that the silence IS their feedback and that feedback is “this retreat sucked but I’m scared to tell you that to your face.”

          (kidding… but not really….)

          Reply
        3. ENTP

          But most reasonably intelligent college graduates should be able give feedback (I daresay even negative feedback) that is constructive and diplomatic, not just “hey boss, your retreat sucked.”

          By your standards, a manager can never legitimately ask for feedback from reports.

          Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            Keep in mind, we’re dealing with someone who, when not provided with feedback she clearly and unambiguously requested from those comfortable giving it, spent 20 minutes glaring and jotting down names. This is not a person who will roll thoughtfully with negative feedback. Even constructive and diplomatic negative feedback can be treated like a deadly personal insult by someone this maladroit.

            Reply
  27. Hannah

    One thing I’ve noticed about the whole “EVERYONE MUST CONTRIBUTE” idea, either optionally or mandatory, is that forcing people to scrounge around for something to say often makes it so you have a bunch of ideas people don’t ACTUALLY want to implement. I find myself doing this…I’m asked for ideas, and feel pressure to come up with something when it isn’t actually something I feel strongly about.

    One example of this is my boss recently felt our standing meetings were too boring, and instead of taking that as a sign that we didn’t actually have enough to talk about to have as many meetings as we did, decided to force everyone to think of agenda items to talk about for every meeting. As in, everyone was required to add something to the agenda, regardless of how much they actually wanted to talk about it.

    It’s one thing to try to make space for people who don’t often speak up and need a bit of a nudge to have the guts to do so, or to notice who NEVER has anything to say and speak about why that might be with them privately. But making a space and trying to fill it is not the same as actually being productive. If people don’t have anything to say about something, that’s information that managers should take into account.

    Reply
    1. Havarti

      Ha! I used to make up additional non-existent sins in the confession booth as a kid because the priest would get super quiet, like he was waiting for me to continue. So I’d fill in the silence by committing the sin of lying. Oops.

      Reply
    2. Argh!

      We had a meeting about what our meetings should be about recently. Our meetings are basically stale rehashes of things that could be handled with an email, with a windup asking for news or anything to add. It was really interesting to hear what my coworkers had to say, and I hope we’ll have more productive meetings soon. Trying something new often results in a few mistakes and time-wasters, but it beats a workplace where experimentation never happens.

      Reply
  28. Leenie

    I want to be clear that I think the manager handled this miserably, so I’m not defending her tactics at all. But – after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes – I’m a little surprised that participants didn’t just take the hint and speak up. Again, not defending, the weird coercive tactic. But is this level of tension normal in the organization? That level of digging in on both sides is really hard to imagine in most circumstances. 20 minutes is a lot of silence in a group.

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      I can think of a lot of reasons why. One might be, simply, a lack of particularly actionable feedback.

      But the more likely possibility, in my mind, is that a lot of people were thinking “This was a tedious, boring waste of time that took me away from stuff I really need to be doing and will generate at least three days of make-up work, and there was very little that was useful or actionable here, and I’d really rather you saved us all the time and never did this again.” Given that the department head showed herself to be a punitive, glaring weirdo, I can easily see people not wanting to give her bad feedback about her event.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        And the weightier the silences, the harder it is to speak up, because it’s like the contribution has to be worth breaking the silence for. Nobody’s going to break a ten-minute silence with “It was okay.”

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          It’s the sunk cost fallacy – everyone is thinking, “She’s gotta give up on this in another minute,” while the director is thinking, “Someone’s gotta speak eventually.”

          Reply
        2. Leenie

          I actually feel bad for the participants. I can imagine the growing silence and discomfort and wondering if someone would just speak up or if the boss would call an end to the meeting. It sounds excruciating. I, as an introvert, really don’t mind speaking up in a group setting (I just like to go back to my quiet hotel room at the end of the day). I suppose there was a point where it almost seemed too late to speak for some people. But really, saying a few words in my mind has very little to do with rewarding the boss’s bad behavior. It has everything to do with enabling the group as a whole to get on with their lives.

          Reply
      2. mcr-red

        “This was a tedious, boring waste of time that took me away from stuff I really need to be doing and will generate at least three days of make-up work, and there was very little that was useful or actionable here, and I’d really rather you saved us all the time and never did this again.”

        And how do you ever say that to a boss in a way that they’re not going to instantly get angry?

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          “It was an interesting conversation, but ultimately I don’t think we’re coming away with enough that’s actionable that it made sense to spend X days on it. Maybe in the future we could try shorter meetings or structure them differently.”

          Reply
            1. Trix

              Yes. Yes she is. And the fact that she shares her magic with us is one of the many reasons we love her. <3

              Reply
      3. Leenie

        I get that. I’m just surprised that people didn’t pipe up and comment about the vegetarian lunch choices or about how they enjoyed Bill’s presentation just to move things along. Not because the boss deserved genuine feedback, but for their own comfort and to just end it. I think the boss’s behavior was inappropriate. But the response of the group (or lack thereof) seems to be in outlier territory.

        Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            Returning awkwardness to sender is how it looks to me. It’s not on the rest of the employees to rescue her from her unrealistic expectations and maladroit handling of the situation. She held the power, she was facilitating, that’s all on her.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Agreed. And at the time, people didn’t know this was going to be a 20-minute standoff–they probably kept thinking “All right, it’s clearly over, we’ll be going now…now…now.” If you’d told them up front that if everybody said something in the next five minutes they could all go but otherwise they’d have to sit there, the responses would probably have been very different.

              Reply
              1. Argh!

                After 15 minutes I think it would have been clear what was happening. Whoever didn’t talk at minute 16 bears some responsibility.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Responsibility for the remaining five minutes? Seems pretty overshadowed by the responsibility for the previous fifteen. This just seems like getting the Bunker Women to blame each other while the Reverend takes it easy.

                  More practically, what does this apportionment get people? Is the goal to punish people according to their responsibility for a situation didn’t go well, or is the goal to make the situation go better in future? What does “better” look like–do they want noise or 100% participation or actionable intelligence or something else? Who has the most desire to do that, and who has the most power to?

      4. ENTP

        Seriously, I am getting to the point of saying that corporate retreats should be optional, and that the introverts who want to sit them out “because it’s taking me away from the stuff I really need to be doing” should be allowed to go their own way. (Recognizing the old aphorism that “90% of success is showing up,” and that these introverts shouldn’t be surprised when they get passed over for plum assignments.)
        Better still, screen people like this out when hiring in the first place.

        Reply
        1. Liet-Kynes

          Aside from that last line abut screening out the people who can be counted on to get stuff done instead of standing around talking animatedly about all the stuff they’re going to do when they get done talking, I think your idea that corporate retreats should be optional is a fantastic one. Oh, and I also disagree that introverts will get passed over for plum assignments, because, well, results talk. But agreed otherwise.

          Was that enough snark to make it clear how abrasive you’re being?

          Reply
          1. ENTP

            This is an old argument. There are perpetually the people who inveigle against corporate retreats, strategy meetings, and such because they don’t consider these events “real work.” I’ll say only that I disagree, and that I think it’s fine for companies to screen for hires who are willing to participate in meetings, and leave it at that. This is exactly why companies and employees should both look at “fit.”

            Reply
              1. theguvnah

                Sure, they’re not “real work” if your job is on the factory line producing commercial goods, but that’s not most peoples’ jobs. Thinking, strategizing, building relationships – in my world, this is all real work.

                Reply
              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                Of course they are. I mean, there are useless ones, of course. But strategy, planning, collaboration, big picture reflection — those are all useful activities that are sometimes best done in that context.

                Reply
                1. Liet-Kynes

                  I was being a little flip. Of course, strategy, planning, collaboration and big picture work are important, and I think that sometimes, getting out of one’s typical milieu helps stimulate that. But in my experience, the structured yearly off-site corporate retreat with guest speaker tends not to be particularly productive.

        2. Argh!

          …so nobody would ever get to know the introverts in the office, and they would never have to look at something other than their own desktop. How could that be a good thing?

          Reply
    2. Argh!

      I agree. Unless someone has such a horrible social phobia that they really shouldn’t have been there in the first place, they can surely find *something* to say.

      Reply
  29. LoiraSafada

    I don’t mind speaking to groups at all, but ‘forced voluntary’ participation is the quickest way to get me to not say anything. Making people talk for the sake of talking is rarely productive. I’m also confused by the people that are conflating a lack of talking with a lack of listening – I’ve worked with plenty of people that are always talking to mask their incompetence or solely to advance their own agenda. Talking is not synonymous with bringing value or insight to a conversation. If anything, more people should be introspective about why they’re talking in the first place. Isn’t this one of the biggest root causes of why many, if not most, meetings are total wastes of time in the first place?

    Reply
        1. LQ

          At work I would say yes, but I would also say that you can bring value by learning something from it. If I’m in a conversation at work and I’m not bringing value to the conversation then why am I there? Sometimes that value is that I have learned something I can apply later or even that I have learned that this is no longer the job for me to work at. But yeah. (I think that’s part of how you can identify a really bad company is you are constantly in conversations where you aren’t bringing value.)

          Reply
        2. Argh!

          If you’re being paid for your intellectual qualifications, yes. If you’re paid to put handles on teapots, probably not.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I would phrase it differently–that you can’t opt out of the obligation to bring value to conversations. But that’s not the same thing as every person having value to bring to every conversation. Part of intellectual qualifications is understanding that time is sometimes better spent on somebody else’s contribution.

            Reply
            1. Sam

              The people who think every meeting needs a running stream of their “input” are the ones who probably have the lowest value:output ratio.

              Reply
  30. mcr-red

    I never understand why people ask for feedback when they *in general* don’t want it unless it it good. The boss who made everyone go to an all day retreat that cost $ doesn’t want to hear, “This was a boring waste of time and I learned nothing.” The college professor doesn’t want to hear, “You speak so monotone and don’t act like you’re interested in the topic you’re teaching, so why should I be interested?” And even restaurants/online shopping, I have heard people say, “Give me 5 stars if you’re satisfied with service, everything else is bad.” It’s a weird game that they want people to play into.

    The worst cases of “give me your feedback” by bosses I’ve personally seen was the college professor who would flip out on students who rated them bad (even though names weren’t on the surveys he recognized people’s handwriting) and the hour-long meeting I went to in which our bosses wanted our feedback on ways the organization could improve to help us do our jobs and not ONE THING we suggested was implemented.

    Reply
    1. Decima Dewey

      Amen. It’s one thing for the person running the meeting to say that everything should introduce themselves and say something about them that no one knows. I’ll grit my teeth and think of something innocuous to say when it’s my turn.

      At my workplace’s recent All Staff Day I attended a short seminar on depression. Not only did I not learn anything I hadn’t known before, but as I looked at the handout, the thing was on the verge of veering into rank pseudoscience. If the presenters had asked us to go around and contribute feedback, I’d’ve been hardpressed to say anything positive.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        You could say “The depression seminar was interesting, and it makes me want to see some hard science relating to it next time.

        Reply
      2. paul

        Oh, asking me to share something no one knows chaps my ass royally, particularly because I’ve been at this organization a fair while (though I’ve moved around internally). If no one knows it about me, it’s because I don’t *want* them to!

        Reply
        1. a different Vicki

          I’d probably give them something that nobody knows because it’s irrelevant, trivial, and not interesting enough to have come up in conversation: for example, “I used to go to a doctor whose office was in a building with with one bright orange wall.”

          Reply
  31. Dorothy Mantooth

    My heart dropped when I read the heading for this post. What a terrible, awkward way to spend 20 minutes.

    Reply
  32. ArtK

    Wanting participation is great, but it can easily become something that feels like it’s out of grade school. We use Scrum for part of our development process and one of the things that you do is hold a retrospective after every sprint (two weeks in our case.) Our scrum master was insisting that each and every person contribute “something we did well” and “something we did poorly” every retrospective. That got old really fast. Since most of our problems were outside of the scrum process itself, we’d get the same recitation of operational woes. Things went fairly smoothly otherwise, so there was nothing outstanding to report on the good side. I explained to the SM that I was tired of feeling like I was in kindergarten and that we needed to modify this a bit. I was working harder to come up with things to say than I was at doing my job (and that’s saying a lot.)

    One of my personal adages: “No idea is so great that it can’t be ruined by making it mandatory.”

    Reply
  33. Delta Delta

    I recently left a very toxic workplace where it was clear the management cared only about certain voices and not about others’. Big Boss once asked me why people didn’t speak up during meetings. I wanted to say, “because it’s clear you don’t care what we have to say, you malevolent blowhard.” Instead I said that sometimes it’s hard to be on the spot and that people like to process information before giving a response. I do think that’s true. Depending on what was discussed, sometimes people like some time to digest the information before giving feedback.

    But really, who spends 20 minutes on this? Is this my former office? Argh.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Bad bosses almost always think they are great bosses. They lack what psychologists call “insight.” I used to work in a workplace where our input was sought, we had a consensus, and then the big boss would do something completely different. It was demoralizing. A few of us did speak to the boss/es about that and the charade ended. We told them that it didn’t seem like our input translated to actual decisions. It would be nice if they’d said “your input was valuable but we found that it cost too much to go with Vendor X” or changed their ways after hearing from us, but at least without the charade there was no disappointment.

      Reply
  34. Chickaletta

    I agree with Alison here. The biggest failure out of everyone in the group was the manager who clearly doesn’t know how to deal with group dynamics. What they did is a great example of how NOT to lead a group discussion.

    Reply
  35. Argh!

    re: writing down names. How does LW know that’s what was happening? Maybe the boss was just taking notes on the comments, and of course if you want to follow up with people you’d want to know who said what. I wouldn’t automatically assume nefarious motives, especially since this boss seems a bit socially inept.

    Reply
    1. Zombii

      You clearly come from such a dysfunctional workplace that your sense of what a normal workplace is like has been completely warped. You’ve commented on damn near every comment on this thread, defending the inept manager because “she’s the boss!” while also contradicting yourself multiple times.

      I hope you find a functional workplace someday and I hope you get a chance to work through this without accidentally inflicting this warped viewpoint on too many other people who don’t know it’s wrong.

      PSA: This situation wasn’t normal or okay. The boss in the letter wasn’t normal or okay. No one hates the people who didn’t volunteer to speak—hate is far too strong an emotion to waste on a coworker at a normal workplace.

      Reply
  36. ThatAspie

    Oh, my gosh. There is just so much wrong with your boss, LW! I can think of so many different reasons why your boss’ idea to refuse to move on until everyone talked is so bad.
    As an Aspie, I have friends all across the autism spectrum. Some of my friends cannot use their mouths to form words at all, some of them can only form certain words, and some can only do it under certain circumstances (for instance, being in the right mood, the lighting needing to be right, etc.) Still others don’t always want to talk for one reason or another (the parent I got the Asperger’s from doesn’t like talking if there’s nothing to say, and, on some level, that kinda makes sense to me – although I can usually think of something to say, but I’m also extremely extroverted.) There are other disabilities that can be very similar.
    Introverts exist. Many introverts I’ve met don’t really enjoy talking all that much compared to how much they enjoy thinking quietly. My mom, for example, prefers to keep to herself most of the time, especially if she thinks that she doesn’t know enough about a situation to contribute, or if there’s a problem that she feels will go away on its own. She also prefers it when someone else talks first about an idea, even if she had the idea, too. There are also ambiverts, people with an equal number of traits associated with extroversion and with introversion, who might not feel like talking as much on one day as on another day.
    There are also illnesses and injuries that make talking difficult, or even impossible. For instance, when I had a nasty viral infection in my throat not too long ago, I lost my voice because my tonsils were swollen so big that they got in the way of my vocal cords. I have friends with social anxiety, brain injuries, etc. I once scratched my throat on a corn chip and had to stop talking for a few days while it healed.
    And then there’s times when, regardless of whatever else, people just don’t have anything to say!

    Reply

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