by Ginger Philbrick
I just got off one of my way-too-many Zoom meetings and, once again, have been amazed at how insensitive people can be to other’s responses. I mean, people who keep on talking when it is obvious their audience is not engaged. What can be done about it? I am going nuts, but I am required to attend these meetings.
Your angst has hit home with me, Gary. There have been many times in my life when, in order not to explode, I have found alternative ways to maintain my sanity while being forced to listen to someone who can see me but whose monologue ceased to register.
Among my rescuers are making a grocery list, thinking of what the main character in the book I am currently reading would do in this situation, and imagining how the person talking would look if he or she were speaking upside down. That last one comes from a giggle-producing childhood game where the chin became the nose. However, these are only temporary fixes; they do not stop the recurrence of madness.
A popular phrase is “reading the room.” A wise person—whether engaging in everyday conversation, leading a meeting, or giving a speech—will do it as they speak. It means looking at the audience and judging interest in what is being said by their responses, or lack thereof.
Another’s body language tells us a lot about interest level. Yawning, looking off-camera. constantly looking down, staring non-blinking at the speaker with jaw dropped, glazed-over eyes, and eyelids that have been closed shut for more than 7 seconds—these are all warnings that the intended listeners have traveled somewhere else. The wise, polite and merciful reaction is to give them a ticket back by inviting them to share their thoughts.
In your case, when the speaker is reading only her own thoughts and not the room’s, I suggest the following as possible polite ways to interrupt unwanted talk:
• “Chris, could we put a book mark here and see what other ideas/thoughts are?”
• “Excuse me, Paul, but I was just wondering what our teammates have to say about that.”
• “Wow! I like what you are saying, but may I comment?”
• “Unfortunately, I need to leave now. I will ask Sam to fill me in later on what I missed.”
If none of the above are effective, the best past time might be considering what career changes are appealing. Preferably ones that couldn’t possibly include Zooming.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at email@example.com.