Tuesday, December 27, 2016

You may not even know how much you talk

"We should try being quiet to hear better what the other team members have to say", I suggested to the in-room product owner. He was game as long as it wasn't just him who needed to temper down his speaking but I would have to do that too.

And so we agreed. We would work on actively listening, and actively not saying what should be done. We would make room for others.

This was a practice I've suggested before. Working out ways of moving myself from the active speaker in meetings -role into speaking in the background, encouraging those with less volume to say what they want to say, and to be allowed to make their own (inexpensive) mistakes. Practicing not taking the last word (or competing for it), not having to contribute even if I thought I knew better and being quiet. And it isn't easy.

I'm perceived as the one who always speaks up. Sometimes I speak up of things others are afraid of saying. Sometimes I say again things others are saying but not being heard. And sometimes I just have things to say myself.

I speak enough to remember negative remarks about this habit. The colleague a decade ago who told me in moment of frustration that only those who don't know how to do things talk this much. The moments where I realize I'm filling in other's people's sentences or interrupting thinking I know what they will say anyway.  I don't recall people complaining much on it, but it often hits my self-improvement analysis filters of things I would like to improve on: patience and the timing of my responses.

Looking into gender research, I came across the idea of a listener bias: the idea that we are socialized to think women talk more than they actually do and feel like they are dominating discussions easier than men. It lead me into a continued path of investigating the real dynamics. But as a first step, it inspired me to bring 'changing the speaking power dynamic' as the single rule for a women in agile summit at Agile Testing Days.

In my group of seven women and one man, getting excited over the topics we were discussing ended up with the single man taking more than a third of speaking time. I asked later if he realized what had happened, and he did not.

In another group, I asked a man in the group how the discussions went. He told me of pains of not contributing as much as he had as he had been an expert in the topics, but decided to play by the rules given and speak less to give room for the women's voices.

With the experiment of quietness I share with my product owner, I will also take another one. I just installed a gender timer to pay attention to how much we actually speak. My time to move from feedback and perceptions to a period of measurement. That should be interesting. 

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