Critical Conversations For Dummies
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Dealing with silent team members during a critical conversation is often best done by creating opportunities for participation. Dealing with talkers who suddenly go silent during a critical conversation requires a different tactic if you want to rescue the situation.

Try asking silent members for their opinions during critical conversations in order to encourage their participation. You may also try letting individuals who haven’t been contributing to a critical conversation to think of solutions in a smaller setting or by themselves.

These tactics work well when someone doesn’t participate in a conversation. But dealing with a nonstop talker who immediately becomes silent takes a different approach.

The first option is to do absolutely nothing. Maybe the talker is done with all his comments. Maybe with your perfect conversation skills, the talker is finally processing information and discovering how to listen. There are plenty of possibilities, so be careful not to jump to conclusions too quickly.

However, if the person just stops participating in a group or in a one-on-one conversation and you need participation to build agreement about what to do next, it can be useful to state what you see. Saying, “I noticed that you aren’t participating anymore,” is a bit confrontational.

To use more cooperative language that generates results, try saying, “I noticed that I’ve been doing much of the talking. I know you came to the meeting with so many ideas; can we start applying them to the problem at hand?” If you’re in a larger group setting, it may be best to pull the person aside on a break to ask a similar question.

You may also want to give ownership of the issue back to the currently silent talker. You can help drive this accountability by targeting questions more directly. For example, saying, “This action plan is our responsibility — not just yours or mine — so I’d like your input into what you’re willing to agree to,” is a kind yet direct way of saying, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

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Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach. She has created and taught courses on communication skills, crucial conversations for new managers, communication for professionals, and dealing with difficult conversations. She is the coauthor of Leading Business Change For Dummies and is the Chief Leader of She Leads.

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