Have you ever been at a meeting, a dinner table, or an event where one or two people do all the talking and the rest of the group sits in silence? Right? Does it drive you crazy, too?
Lately I feel like I am coming out of my skin when it happens. So I decided I needed to write about it because maybe it bugs someone else too!
“Holding Court” is pervasive in the world I inhabit. From board meetings, to dinner parties, to conferences, and everything in between. I think it comes from the patriarchal culture we live in. Many corporations, governmental agencies, educational systems, family systems, political systems etc. are set up so that a few people, at the top, do all the talking… while others are silent.
I tell myself we can, and desperately need to change that model. We need the voices of black and brown skinned people, the voices of all women, the voices of the economically disadvantaged, and the children.
The question is “How do we change unhelpful patterns that can be seen by some people and not always seen by the people doing them?”
We are like fish in water. The fish don’t see the water, they live in it.
We can’t see that we “hold court” because it’s our “water”.
We need to ask ourselves;
Do I want to live in a world that works for all?
If yes. Do this assignment. Reveal a blind-spot. Learn and grow. Be willing to own your part in this. And change it.
Sidebar- I do this sometimes — “hold court”. Mostly when I am in a passionate frenzy. And it’s usually about topics like this. I am not calling you out without calling myself out. And we need to call ourselves out.
Here’s our assignment:
Step one: Ask five people if you “hold court”, talk more than listen, or are the center of attention more than seems fair to others. (tips on who to ask — one person over 80, one under 5, a colleague or someone from work, someone you don’t always get along with, a person of a different gender, and a family member- get a variety of opinions)
What do you hold court about? When do you do it? How often do they want you to stop talking and haven’t asked? What is the impact on them? Why haven’t they told you? etc.
Take time to consider all you heard. It’s not “the truth” and there is probably some, or a lot of, truth to it. If you feel uncomfortable stay with it. Don’t defend. This is a practice in humility.
If the answer is yes I do “hold court” keep going with the assignment. (If you are more of a listener send this to the people in your circle who take up a lot of space and ask them to do this!)
Step two: Begin to observe your behavior and those around you. Be like a fly on the wall. When you are in a meeting, or at the next dinner party notice how you participate. How many times do you talk compared to the quietest person in the group? Who is the quietest person in the group? Who gets interrupted? Who interrupts? Who gets paid the most attention? Who is not saying anything? Wonder why? Get curious about all of it.
Step three: Change your behavior. If you’ve been holding court you have the power to create safe space for others to begin speaking up. Invite people of color and women to speak. Acknowledge their contributions. Interrupt someone else who is holding court and ask to hear from someone else. Keep inviting, keep offering space. Be a change maker.
Step four: Ask permission to speak. I know that may sound weird to you. Why should you ask permission. It will feel awkward. And just trust me on this. Say something like “Would you like to hear my idea’s, advice, or thoughts on that topic?”. People don’t always want to hear what you have to say. Asking permission is acknowledging that. It also is practicing humility.
Step five: As you are learning how to change this part of yourself ask someone you trust to hold you accountable. To call it to your attention.
Step six: Practice your listening skills. Learn what opened ended questions are. Learn to listen emphatically. Learn active listening. Gain some skill on the flip side.
Step seven: My favorite. Use a timer. Give everyone the same amount of time to speak and the same amount of time to listen. I generally do one to three minutes of talking time— in rounds (meaning you speak more than once)— depending on size of group and what the situation is. This is life-changing whether at the dinner table, a board meeting or a retreat. Democratization of time. If you only do two steps, do step one and step seven. This simple step is changing a power-over paradigm. You can do it!
Giving voice to those who are voiceless is game changing for all of us.
Give it a go. If you do I promise you will grow in compassion, humility, and happiness. Listening to others and learning things you don’t know can be much more enriching than hearing yourself talk.
P.S. Stoke Your Woke has a facilitation guide that includes equity of time for all participants. You may find it a helpful resource. Click here to find it.
P.S.S. pass this along to a few people you know who might have this as a blind-spot!