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Have you ever been in a meeting where one person, without knowing it, is dominating the conversation and as a result crushing any creativity or momentum for the group?

Or maybe you have feared you are that person!

Either way, I was observing a meeting recently with this dynamic in place and it got me thinking. What is the right amount of participation for, let’s say a six-person meeting? Perhaps just as important, how can anyone avoid this killer scenario and have more productive, balanced meetings? Here are some quick thoughts:

Rule of thumb: in an hour-long meeting for six people what is the right balance? In the meeting I observed, it felt out-of-balance. Why do we keep coming back to this person’s issues? Why is this person offering opinions that are outside their expertise? Sound familiar? I would suggest a good measure would be three contributions over an hour-long meeting from each non-leader participant. If anyone is talking five/six/seven times you are over-participating! Allow someone else to weigh in, even if that means an occasional awkward silence. Anything less seems like your voice is just not being represented and anything over three contributions is too much.

Tools to help: Look around your kitchen and there may be a solution to this issue. Do you have an egg timer? Let the grains of sand sit as an impartial judge. You want the floor? You have three minutes. Or are there meeting rules up on the wall in every conference room? Good idea. At the very least, a meeting agenda helps move things along with some balance.

Culture provides the roadmap: If there is anything that consistently sets the tone for an organization it is culture. A great, thoughtful culture doesn’t allow anyone to dominate a meeting. When new people arrive, they quickly learn what is acceptable in this workplace. Over-sharers are not welcome! Trying to dominate every space? You won’t last long in a healthy culture. But, to get to that place, the hard work of laying the foundation of a stimulating culture will need to be put in place. One of the cornerstones of a great culture? See the next item.

Great leaders always listen: It may sound like a broken record from me, but I can’t say it enough. Great leaders only have people in the meeting who need to be there – and great leaders make sure every contribution is heard. Then, and only then, do they weigh in with any significant comments. A great leader knows how to set the table for a good discussion, then sit back and allow those in the room to offer their thoughts.

The next time you are in a meeting, take note of what you’ve read here and see if you agree. Balance is important for everyone, in every aspect of our lives, and meetings are no exception. Make them productive, where every person is valued, and watch the positive results roll in!