Ending GenZ’s Blank Stares in Meetings

Blank stares during a meeting are the worst.

Did I say something ridiculous? Offensive?

Do you just not give a shit about what I’m saying?

Are you listening?

With a blank stare, you don’t really have much to base your response on.

And, being an extrovert who avoids silence like the plague, I usually just keep talking to fill the void. Which is usually not the most productive use of everyone’s time and energy.

Here’s the thing: under all of this, a blank stare can sometimes feel like a judgement. I feel this most acutely when the person giving me the blank stare is younger than I am.

Immediately, it puts me on the defensive. It’s easy to start thinking, “soooo….you think you can do this better, huh?”

BUT the blank stares, particularly from GenZ (24 years old and younger) is likely not a judgement in the workplace.

It should be interpreted as “I don’t know exactly how to engage here, and rather than looking like a fool in front of the whole team, I’m just going to stay quiet and hope no one notices.”

This makes it a VERY different situation, doesn’t it?

Here are 4 WAYS to get GenZ talking during a meeting:

Tip 1: Explain WHY the meeting/project matters to the organization.

Be as explicit and clear as possible. GenZ cares a lot about WHY they are doing things – and how their work contributes to the bigger picture.

Remember, this group of people has spent their whole lives working on teams, so they get “working together” in a way most workplaces strive for.

Give them the “why” and then stand back. Great things will follow.

Tip 2: Share your meeting participation expectations with everyone. Write it down if needed, step-by-step.

GenZ is used to having expectations written down – and following these written expectations to get the highest grades in school.

It might seem “obvious” to you, or like a gigantic pain in the butt to write down how to participate in a meeting.

I get it.

But, if you want people to show up and participate, you have to lay out the ‘rules’ and guidelines.

Expect everyone to be 3 minutes early to the meeting? Want regular project updates? Want people to voice their opinions?

Be specific about what you want and need. Write it down and share it with your team. You may be surprised that all your team members – GenZ and older – will step up their participation once they know your expectations.

Tip 3: Practice what you preach. If you want others to participate, make sure you lead by example.

Want people to be prepared for the meeting? Have their phone put away during discussions? Ask thoughtful questions?

Make sure YOU are doing these things as well. Take some time for some HONEST self-reflection.

If you are always joining the meeting 5 minutes late, typing an email while you sit down, and constantly checking your phone, can you expect others to behave differently?

Here’s the thing: leaders often think everyone expects them to be flawless…and so it’s easy to pretend that you’ve never messed up.

However, your team will happily call “bull shit!” and likely/quickly point out all the places you have messed up. Leaders who admit their mistakes openly – and ask for help rectifying the situation always have more support from their teams.

Tip 4: Give people a clear opportunity to participate in the meeting.

Want people to give their opinion during the meeting? Or report information?

Have you given them a clear opportunity to do so?

Do you ask open-ended questions (i.e., what ideas do you have for next month’s product launch?) that encourage discussion.

If you are meeting virtually, be sure to count to 15 or 20 before moving on. Remember, it takes extra time for your message to travel to your audience – and for their message to travel back to you.

BOTTOM LINE:

Be clear and specific about what you want (and need!) from the meeting.

Lead by example. Show your team the kind of participation you want in the meeting.

It may take some time, and perhaps some 1-on-1 conversations, but with time, your team will be contributing to the efficiency (and dare I say, fun!) in your meetings.

Change is hard. Times are (still!) weird. Be kind to yourself and others.

Cheers,
Emily

P.S. Meetings the bane of your existence? Check out more recommendations here.

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