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You know who we’re talking about. You call a meeting to brainstorm ideas, but as soon as you open the floor one guy does all the talking. It’s not just common; it’s the norm. Research indicates that in a typical six-person meeting, two people do more than 60% of the talking.

“It leads to what I call the Doom Loop because the people who are not quite as dominant don’t speak because they’ve given up. And so the overly dominant people take over and it just becomes this self-perpetuating cycle,” says Leigh Thompson, a professor of dispute resolution at the Kellogg School of Management in a video that’s been making the rounds lately.

In the video, she describes a scenario in which a CEO asked her to facilitate an off-site to brainstorm ideas to increase sales of motor oil, but wanted to prevent one overly dominant team member from taking over. Neutralizing a meeting loudmouth isn’t easy, says Thompson. Talking to them doesn’t work. Nor does asking them to behave differently or to control themselves. “Typically they don’t work because the person who dominates the meeting lacks self-awareness. They also lack self-control: They just can’t help themselves,” she says in the video.

Her solution? Brainwriting.

Brainwriting is different from brainstorming in that one involves everyone getting together to share ideas orally, while the other replaces the discussion with pen and paper. Here’s how it works:

  1. At the beginning of the meeting, everyone takes a stack of cue cards and sits down
  2. For 10 minutes everyone writes as many ideas as they can—one idea per card.
  3. Once the initial Brainwriting is done, all the cards are taped to the wall and everyone votes by putting Post-its next to the best ideas.

For the motor oil meeting, Thompson had two rules: “No guessing and no confessions.” No one was allowed to sign their cards or identify their ideas in anyway. The goal was to judge the ideas on merit, not popularity. And more importantly, “When you’re writing ideas, no one can interrupt you. No one can block your thoughts. Then those can be shared later with team members.”

The off-site was hailed as a spectacular success. “The overly dominant people had been neutralized. The normally quiet, shy people had been energized,” she says. And the meeting generated more ideas for discussion than it would have otherwise.

So if you’ve got a small minority of meeting loudmouths, you could a) stop inviting them to brainstorm with the team or b) institute a new tradition of brainwriting.

MORE MEETING MANAGEMENT TIPS:

Do you have to deal with dominant employees monopolizing your meetings? How do you stop them? Share your thoughts using the comments section below.

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