3 Ways to Get More from “Performers”

Seems like there’s at least one in every meeting. The person who takes a lot of time to say very little using seemingly impressive jargon and dramatic pauses. The performer, who can turn a good meeting bad. 

Statistics galore tout how much most people dislike meetings and how they waste so much time. Here are a few now:

  • In a survey by the Centre for Economics and Business Research office workers reported that of the approximate four hours per week spent in meetings, half of that time is wasted.
  • Industry Week’s survey of 2000 managers indicated that at least 30 percent of their meeting time was a waste.
  • When 3M Meeting Network surveyed executives, this group felt they wasted 25 – 50 percent of the time.

Some of that waste can be attributed to a specific office worker archetype that a co-worker from long ago termed performers. You’ve seen them. They’ve been your employees, your co-workers and even your superiors. They appear when there’s someone in the meeting they feel a need to impress.

A performer is usually the third or fourth person to jump on a bandwagon, which then becomes his stage. He or she repeats all that’s been agreed to, except with more flourish and an air of command, as if the ideas being spouted are original and no one has heard them before. And those who most truly portray the archetype take a fair amount of time for their performance.

Also, the performer doesn’t get anywhere near the edge of the bandwagon. There are no additions to the thoughts—except maybe a pooh-poohing of something someone else added that didn’t seem to garner support.

From an improv perspective, this person may seem to be following the time-honored tradition of yes and, where one improviser agrees with what his scene partner said and then adds another piece of information. This is the fundamental building block to get from a single suggestion to a fleshed out, interesting and funny scene. But the meeting performer only goes half way… to the yes.

As much as I get annoyed at performers, I don’t blame them. I blame the person they want to impress. Performing is Pavlovian in nature. People do it because they get the response they want.

Here’s an example of the dynamics:

  1. Employee 1 comes up with a good idea. The leader loves it and praises him.
  2. Employee 2 (like a good improviser) accepts the first idea and then adds something to it. The leader keys in on the enhancement and employee 2 gets some affection.
  3. Maybe a few more people yes and, improving the original idea all along the way. With the leader, spreading the compliments like dandelion fuzz in the wind.
Photo by Daniel Kulinski

Photo by Daniel Kulinski

So of course the performer wants some of that love.

It’s up to the person with the power to recognize the performer and discourage the behavior. After all, it can go beyond wasting time and drain the creative energy that was flowing.

So here are a few ideas:

#1 – When you recognize people performing, don’t let them go on for a long time. In fact, call them out on it. Politely tell them what they’re saying has been established and you’re looking for new thoughts. While you might embarrass them, mitigate that seeking their opinion and asking what they can add.

#2 – The impetus to perform is a powerful tool. People want to please you, so leverage (don’t exploit) that power. Sometimes the performers come out when the flurry of ideas slows down. Perhaps, the attendees aren’t sure where you want to go next with the discussion. So ask probing questions. Let them know what is still unclear to you or what needs more definition.

#2a – If you don’t have a good question or you’re not sure what’s next… move on—either go to the next topic on the agenda or end the meeting. Follow up later.

#3 – While performers want to contribute, they may be afraid of bringing up a completely new idea. To avoid this, you need to establish a reputation for listening and make a point to avoid intimidating behavior. If attendees come up with a new idea and you’re not finished focusing on the previous one, tell them to hold that thought. And then don’t forget to go back and hear it.

Establishing a reputation as a listener may initially waste some time traveling down some dead end streets. But if you’re clear about what doesn’t work for you, people will learn what you like and what you don’t. And over the long haul, that knowledge will earn you even more than extra time.


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