6.3 Side chatters
People chat with those next to them instead of paying attention to the group discussion.
- Some of the side chats are short and respectful, but others are long and disruptive.
- When a serious or contentious item is on the table, some people turn to a colleague and tell them what they really think, rather than share their comments with the group.
- At some point, the side conversations become distracting.
What’s really going on
- Some people do this subconsciously.
- Others mistakenly believe that if they’re not actively engaged in the topic under discussion, it’s OK to conduct a side meeting.
- Side chatting can be symptomatic of a low trust environment where people are reluctant to speak openly.
- Ignoring side chatting, perhaps because senior people are doing it.
- Failing to identify if side chatting is a sign of confusion, disagreement or other hidden problems.
- Allowing a group to meet without effective ground rules that define behaviours.
- Making judgemental or confrontational comments when trying to end side chatting.
- Help the group create a balanced set of ground rules or meeting guidelines that help them control side chatting.
- If a distracting side chat takes place and you feel that you need to intervene, try this approach using open, supportive language:
‘I’m concerned that we’ve lost you to the conversation and are making decisions without you. Your ideas are valuable so we need you back in the conversation.’
- If a topic suddenly causes everyone to turn to the person next to them, try a structured partner chat. Ask each person to find a partner, and set a time frame. Let them have their side chats, and then gather up as much of their discussions as they’re willing to share.
- If certain people are persistent side chatters, take them aside and offer them feedback:
‘I’ve noticed that you engaged in several lengthy side chats in today’s meeting. I found this to be very distracting. Would you please not do this in future meetings?’