A meeting without communication may seem odd at first glance but it’s the approach many big companies including Google and Amazon have been adopting to promote diversity of thought among team members. In this article, we’ll explore why HR professionals could encourage leaders to adopt silent meetings too as a tactic to help nurture more inclusivity at work.

Here’s how silent meetings work: Essentially, the meeting facilitator submits their notes ahead of the meeting. When the meeting starts, all meeting attendees get a few moments of silence to disseminate the information and jot down their thoughts. If there are no slides or meeting notes to review beforehand, then the meeting facilitator can just pose a question or topic at the start of the meeting, then give people 5 to 20 min to scribble notes down (which can be done in a virtual document with a shared notepad or on index cards if it’s in-person meeting). After the “silent review”, the ideas that have been written down are shared with the group.

While this isn’t the kind of meeting that’s applicable in all situations, when put into practice, silent meetings have a host of benefits. But for HR professionals, most importantly, silent meetings can help foster more inclusive meetings.

  1. It levels the playing field

According to Leigh Thompson, J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolutions and Organizations in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, research shows that during a typical six-person meeting, the same two people will speak more than 60% of the time. [1] So, silent meetings can enable more people to participate in the meeting while helping to ensure that the most confident or loudest person in the room doesn’t accidently dominate the conversation.

2. It respects everyone’s time

By having employees submit notes and ideas ahead of time, it can ensure the meeting is more productive and organized. In fact, this type of method is more likely to ensure everyone is on the same page because it can cut down on the repetition of ideas or pop-up conversations that sometimes happen during more “vocal” meetings. Essentially, respecting an employees’ time communicates that an employee matters and is valued.

3. It’s more inclusive for non-native speakers

Let’s say that your native language is English but you’re engaging with a French-speaking client. You’ve been practicing your French but when everyone is going back and forth in French during the meeting you find it a bit hard to keep up with the conversation. This is where silent meetings can be helpful because it allows you to read what’s being said at your own pace.

This is what non-native English speakers could experience during traditional team meetings too, so you make it easier for them to participate when you give them the opportunity to read what’s prepared alongside the rest of the team. [2]

Other considerations:

It’s important to note that this approach won’t work for every meeting, and for every employer or employee. For instance, not everyone can read or digest information at the same speed.

Like all meetings, if adopted, the silent meeting method will need to accommodate everyone including blind or low-vision employees. For example, not all collaborative/brainstorming virtual tools incorporate assistive devices. Do your due diligence to ensure an accessible alternative is provided. Similarly, when it’s time to share ideas verbally, accommodations must be considered there too. For instance, if it’s a virtual meeting, keeping your camera on can help deaf or hard of hearing employees with lipreading and some neurodiverse individuals with social and visual cues too.

A separate consideration would be making the silent meeting completely anonymous. Anonymity could be helpful for larger groups or when discussing a challenging topic. To do this, after the “silent review” the meeting facilitator can simply highlight some ideas from the collected attendee notes. This approach can ease any pressure shy or anxious team members might feel about expressing their ideas in front of a group. It can also ease the unspoken pressure to conform to the majority’s ideas. [3]

To take this a step further, HR professionals and businesses could implement a fully silent review. This means after everyone writes down their thoughts, meeting attendees get to look at the ideas on sticky notes/ index cards or in an app and leave comments there. The meeting ends after this step.  

Bottom line: Ultimately, understanding the objectives of a meeting can help HR professionals and management decide whether silent meetings are worth trying out or not. But for HR professionals looking to support organizations inclusivity mandate at work, silent meetings should be considered.