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'Silent Start': The Brilliant (and Surprising) Meeting Method I Learned From Amazon's Jeff Bezos [Leadership]

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We've all been there: Wasting precious time as we sit in a meeting which is heading nowhere fast.

There are lots of reasons this happens, but many times it comes down to a lack of preparation. Think about it: You can send an agenda in advance, you can provide all the resources your team needs for a productive meeting...but this won't do any good unless people take time to review and think things over ahead of time.

Now as wonderful the idea is that your people prepare well before every meeting, let's get real: Many times, that's simply not going to happen.

And that's what makes the following tactic so amazingly useful.

Bezos's Tactic: Start With Silence

I first learned about this tactic from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, in a wide-ranging interview he delivered some years ago.

I like to call it: Silent Start.

How does it work?

In the opening minutes of some meetings, before any discussion begins, Bezos and his team of senior executives read printed memos in total silence. The memos have been known to reach up to six pages, and the silent start may last as long as 30 minutes. During this time, moderator and attendees peruse. They scribble notes in the margins.

But most importantly, they think.

"For new employees, it's a strange initial experience," says Bezos. "They're just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives."

Bezos says this community exercise has a wonderful purpose: It assures undivided attention on the part of everyone in attendance. Additionally, it helps better prepare those who lead such discussions--because of the skill and focused thought needed to put these memos together in the first place.

"Full sentences are harder to write," explains the famous founder. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."

If you fear that starting a meeting with an extended period of silence will be counterproductive, I can assure you it's not. I've used this method in my own meetings, and it actually saves time in the long run. The foundation for the meetings is laid in real-time, starting everyone off...well, on the same page. If the initial memo is done right, it provides real direction and helps reduce misunderstandings.

But most importantly, silent start gives your people what they need most to do their best work:

Time.

Most of us know that focused thinking and extended reflection can lead to deep discoveries. The problem is, with full inboxes and overscheduled calendars, many people simply don't take the time needed for this necessary exercise.

But a small investment of a few minutes can produce huge dividends--in the form of more meaningful discussion and inspired collaboration.

This means meeting no longer exist as a painful and necessary evil; they become a joy. An open and productive exchange, the place where great ideas are born or refined.

Would you like to offer that to your team or organization? Then consider giving some of your upcoming meetings a silent start.

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