The lights are on, but no one is home.

What I mean by that phrase is a person who is physically in a meeting, but that’s it. They sit in a chair and take up space, but they don’t contribute. They log in, but they don’t turn their camera on, write anything in the chat, or ever unmute their microphone to speak.  Have you ever been in a meeting with someone like this? These people are Withdrawers who disconnect emotionally and do not share their thoughts or opinions. They show up because they have to which is a huge demotivator.

There is a myriad of reasons why a Withdrawer withdraws. Whatever the reason, it is rooted in fear or self-interest, and permitting it can be a sign of a lack of psychological safety. It is likely that no one is okay with it, even the Withdrawer.  Here is how you change it.

  1. Ask a direct question. Use the Withdrawers name and ask them a specific so that they are included and specifically invited to take part in the meeting. But be careful of how you do it. Putting the Withdrawer on the spot may cause them to pull back even more. Remember, the goal is to foster psychological safety so that each meeting participant can ask questions and share ideas. This is how we get the best from our employees, so find the opportunity to legitimately invite their input.
  2. Consider participant level. Most meetings are set up in this way: anyone who needs to be present for any part of the meeting is asked to attend the entire meeting. This is a huge waste of time! I run into this problem with clients all the time. When I recommend that they ask the meeting organizer if they need to attend the full meeting most do not feel safe to do so. This is a red flag! If your employees don’t feel safe asking, “Do I need to be at the entire meeting, or just X portion?”, there is definitely a lack of psychological safety. When designing your meetings, identify Primary Meeting Participants (need to attend the entire meeting) and Secondary Meeting Participants (need to attend only portions of the meeting). Then invite them accordingly.  Not only will this reduce the number of Withdrawers, but it will also help meetings run on schedule.
  3. Look inward. Take a step back and ask yourself if your meetings are poorly run? Disorganized? Boring? If they are, people don’t want to participate because it’s too much work! Heck, they don’t even want to be there! Think about the most boring or poorly taught class you’ve been in …. Did you do a good job of paying attention? Probably not, or at least not all the time. Employees have deadlines, projects, etc., and if a meeting isn’t seen as valuable to the work they do, they are going to have a difficult time engaging. Make your meetings valuable.

This is the last in a series of “Meetings and Psychological Safety”. For the others in the series, click here: Advocator, Attacker, Blocker, Dominator, Horseplayer, Latecomer, Recognition Seeker, and Techie.

If you want to learn to run better meetings, reach out! I can help.