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“We have been talking for a while, Brent…what’s your recommendation!” exclaimed Adam, the president of the division. Prior to Adam’s outburst, Brent had been trying to present a way to increase the quality of a new product. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that he was not only losing Adam’s attention but starting to irritate Adam and undermine his ability to influence Adam due to how he was handling the meeting.

Perhaps you have been in a situation similar to Brent. If so, it is worth your time to understand attention span and meeting productivity in a work context.

  • 75 percent of professionals lose interest in a presentation within 60 seconds and tune out long-winded colleagues after 15 seconds (The Brief Lab)
  • Managers report meeting productivity to be less than 50 percent in research conducted by Nicholas Romano and Jay Nunamaker

Brent was so focused on articulating his thoughts as they occurred to him that he missed the behavioral signs that Adam was getting impatient and ready to move on to next steps. Had Brent been situationally aware, he would have noticed Adam fidgeting in his chair, glancing at the time on his smartphone and starting to rapidly tap his pen. Brent is not a completely self-absorbed person. In fact, he is quite the opposite, because he is known to be a good listener. In the meeting with Adam, Brent simply let his “processing style” and interest in making his point hinder his ability to tune into what was not being said by Adam. This in turn made it difficult for him to prevent Adam’s frustration and provide a timely recommendation when Adam asked for one.

In order to avoid a scenario like Brent experienced, consider these three suggestions:

Recognize How You Process

If you are someone who thinks out loud (a.k.a. an external processor), make sure others are aware of this so that they don’t get frustrated or misinterpret what you’re saying. If you prefer to have time to consider information that is discussed, build in a buffer by letting others know you will get back to them by a specific time.

Look and Listen

Use a combination of what you observe and hear in meetings to help you have a positive impact with colleagues. Albert Mehrabian’s research at UCLA found that 7 percent of interpersonal communication comes from the words that are spoken, 38 percent comes from the way that the words are said, and 55 percent comes from body language.

Handle the Hot Seat

As a business leader, you are likely to encounter an occasional situation where you are put on the spot to make an immediate decision. When this happens, weigh the available information and make what you feel is the best the call. If you believe this occurs more frequently than it should, take a few moments to consider the reason and any signals you might have missed leading up to it. Then formulate strategies to minimize it in the future.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Interview Questions, Flickr)