The Most Dangerous Man in a Meeting

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I was in a meeting the other day where one individual begin to dominate most of the conversation. He sounded confident in his delivery and seemed to have a strong opinion on every topic. Since I didn’t have much experience in the areas being discussed, I mostly stayed silent and tried to learn from the conversation. As a long-time CEO I have participated in many meetings where I was the least experienced person in the room on the topic being discussed. I have trained myself to listen intently and try to ask questions when the reasoning used doesn’t quite hold water.

As I continued to listen to the discussion something began to bother me about the man with all the answers. I was searching to uncover the problem when the conversation just happened to detour into an area where I have a great deal of experience. Sensing my chance to contribute, I began to prepare my thoughts and look for an opportunity to speak. Before I could say anything, the man who had been dominating the conversation began pontificating on the new topic.

While everything that came out of his mouth was said with the same level of confidence as before, it was obvious to me that he didn’t have a clue about this area. At that moment I realized I was in the presence of the most dangerous man in a meeting: someone who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Because he did have expertise in some areas people would listen to him. But he thought he had expertise in all areas and would often express strong opinions even about subjects where he was incompetent. We often judge the validity of an idea by the confidence with which it is expressed. Be careful using that approach, because you never know when the most dangerous man or woman in a meeting will be there, sapping the team’s productivity. Give content and delivery equal weight.

How should you deal with a person like this? You could heed the Boston Globe’s advice on “quieting a blowhard” and take action: Suggest a quick break or change of subject.

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