Does everyone contribute in your meetings..?


Back in 1979 the Schnelle brothers recorded a series of meetings to establish the number and pattern of utterances per hour in meetings. This research showed that in most meetings

  1. Only about one third of those attending actual say anything
  2. Pareto (80/20 rule) applies and a small number talk the most

No surprise there then but at least you can now quote some research to back up previous personal experience...

In addition the adventurous Schnelle brothers found that the inclusion of a moderator or facilitator helped to give a better distribution of active participation. Although the figures show that the same people still tend to talk the most, their contribution is reduced by around 25% and typically everyone does get to say something.

Be careful those who do not speak, at all or very much, may still be very involved, use of the mouth is not a good indicator of engagement...

Male Domination

Being a bloke myself, I do declare a bias, but in this case I have to concur with what Dale Spender found in his research (1970 ~ 1980 ~ 1996 ~ she was a busy girl)

She found that;

  • Men talked more than women in mixed sex conversations
  • Men typically determined the topic
  • Men interrupt more than women (some 98% more...Ouch!)
  • The majority of men defined a good conversation as one where they held the floor
  • The majority of women defined a good conversation as one where everyone had a turn.

There are other issues Dale identified, but as a bloke it is too painful to write them down...

Dale's research has been challenged but those who have repeated her work since (Belenky 1997 ~ Gilligan 1982 ~ and others) found similar results.

For some men and for some women issues like finding a voice and being heard make participating in meetings difficult. If we loose the valid contribution of 20% to 30% of those attending because of similar issues the return on the investment in bringing the group together is severely damaged.

Whether you are chairing meetings or facilitating meetings you have a responsibility to lay down some ground rules and a clear process before you start as well as provide the group feedback on the pattern and quality of communication as the event progresses.

What are your thoughts on effective ground rules for meetings?

Leave a comment...

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