In 6th grade, our teacher would constantly try to regain control of the classroom with her classic command, “Cut the talk.” We were an unruly bunch. We learned to amuse ourselves by imitating her order to”Cut the talk.”
Now we’re all grown up and don’t need a teacher chiding us for side conversations. And yet, I’ve been in plenty of meetings where the need to cut the talk is in plain view.
Side conversations during meetings is both distracting and disrespectful. When it happens, don’t mess around. Use one of the following techniques to bring the side conversations to a close.
Stand by the people engaged in the conversation
If there is a horseshoe-shaped table arrangement, and you have been moving around, you simply need to gradually move yourself near the problem. The chatterers will likely notice your presence and get the hint, or they will notice that everyone is looking at you, which also means they are looking at them. The beauty of this approach is you don’t need to slow things down by interrupting.
Stop and ask for people’s attention
If someone has the floor and others are chatting, I might say to the person with the floor, “Excuse me, Maggie. It’s important we all give Maggie our attention, so we don’t miss what she has to say. Thanks. Continue, Maggie.”
Call on one of the offenders
This might be viewed as passive-aggressive, but I’ve successfully used it. If there’s a lively exchange of ideas, but a few people are engaged in a side conversation, invite one to participate with a simple, “Shane, what do you think about these ideas?” Unfortunately, for Shane, he may not know what the ideas were, because he wasn’t listening. He’ll get the point. Caution, Shane may also get a little irked, especially if he feels singled out. If you use it, be ready for some repercussions either in the meeting or at a later date.
Call out the behavior
This is direct and to the point. “Hey, you two, we need you here with us.” Keep the tone friendly and light, and this should solve the problem.
Have and invoke a ground rule
By having a standing rule the discourages side conversations, you can ask people to stop theirs by simply saying something like, “Just want to remind you of ground rule 2 which you all agreed to follow.”
Keep them focused
If side conversations have become the norm, and they have been tolerated for a while, know that you’ll have to work hard to break what’s become a habit. You may need to use a variety of techniques and apply them multiple times.
Be creative. Be persistent. Just don’t look over the top of your reading classes and screech, “Cut the talk.”