Long-winded report-outs got you down?
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
How do you deal with people who have the floor, but take more time needed for their purpose (e.g., a treasurer giving a 20 minute expense report)?
There are three times to intervene on this behavior: 1) during the meeting 2) before the meeting
3) after the meeting
It can be hard to interrupt a person during the meeting, especially in cultures of “Minnesota nice” or “Wisconsin nice”. To break habitual patterns, you may need a series of proactive interventions, so let's focus on what you can try before and after the meeting.
Before the meeting
The following ideas apply to group members as well as leaders:
-- First, focus on the story you are telling yourself about the people who drone on. Your inner attitude will show, no matter what you say. Be curious about why they do it and assign good intentions.
-- Create an agreement about how all reports are to be handled. For this to work, do it as a group when the long-winded person is present and can contribute. Once you have done so, you can point people to an agreement they helped to create. Here are some examples of reporting agreements your group might adopt:
Committee chairs will email* their reports to all group members by at least 3 days before the meeting, and everyone will read them before the meeting.
One person who will compile reports and send them out with the agenda.
Persons reporting will have 1 minute (to encourage brevity) to recap the top 3 highlights of their report, followed by a few minutes for questions from the meeting participants.
Committee meeting minutes are to be posted on a shared drive within 3 days of a group meeting so everyone can access them before the next board meeting.
-- Place the group's agreement onto your meeting agenda, so everyone knows how reports will be handled. Continue doing this until your group has a habit of shorter reports.
-- Put specific time limits in your meeting agenda. This gives the meeting leader more leverage for interrupting in the moment and moving on ("Excuse me, Ella, it's been 5 minutes. Thanks for your recap. Jamal, let's hear yours now.").
-- Empower everyone to ask for an agenda item to end. If they are reluctant to speak up, offer to back them up because you care about efficiency too. Remind them that complaining after a meeting serves no one and changes nothing.
-- Be consistent about application. If there is an agreement, keep it. If you promise to back someone up, do it. When changing group norms, consistency is essential.
After a meeting
If the "before meeting" interventions don't work, you may want to have a private conversation with the person who tends to share long reports. Here is a feedback process that can invite the person to change:
Describe what you observe (facts). Beware of sharing opinions – stick to the facts.
Share the impact that these facts have on you or on the group.
Make a request that will serve the purpose of the group. For example, you might say, “Ted, I noticed that last week we alloted 5 minutes on the agenda for each committee report and your report lasted 20 minutes. In the end, we had to extend our meeting time. Would you be willing to just share the highlights of your reports in 5 minutes so we can end meetings on time?” I know, easier suggested on paper than used in person! But don't give up. Be kind and encouraging. You can use the same feedback process (describe observations, share impact, make a request) to reinforce signs of improvement in the future.
What other ideas do you have? What has worked for your groups? Share in the comments below!
* This song says it all: Could you really not just put this in an email?