Press release

Growing trust silences monologues in meetings

Published on
November 6, 2013
Wageningen UR, Wageningen University

A successful collaboration with creative decisions. This is what meetings between various parties should result in. This is only possible if the parties concerned trust one another. But how do you recognise growing trust and how can the meeting chair encourage parties to have more faith in each other? Not by allowing long monologues, says Lise van Oortmerssen, who analysed meetings and discovered indicators for trust. She hopes to be awarded a PhD by Wageningen University on 8 November.

The frequency and length of time that parties speak during meetings provides information about their underlying relationships. In her thesis Working both ways, Lise van Oortmerssen concludes that, over time, this can even be an indication of whether the meetings are effective.

For more than a year, Lise van Oortmerssen made audio recordings of the meetings of two boards. She simultaneously studied the progress of their collaboration and the relationships within the boards. She studied the audio material for one of the boards by analysing one-minute clips. From her research data, she deduced that growing trust between collaboration partners is visible in the conversations they have during meetings. As trust increases, the various partners talk more frequently and more briefly. The average number of turns they took in talking increased by 27% per minute as their trust in each other grew. The number of different speakers per minute also rose and the number of monologues lasting more than a minute dropped by almost half. During the first half of the period she observed, speakers took over from one another on average 3.3 times per minute, while in the second half of the period (when trust had started to grow), they took over from one another on average 4.2 times per minute.

There was already a high level of mutual trust within the second board. Discussions in their meetings sometimes visibly gained speed as the partners went into a ‘flow’, elaborating on each other’s ideas and often arriving at creative turns and solutions.

Meeting chair

The study also showed that trust and conversation patterns have a mutual relationship. This is why it seems that trust may be influenced and stimulated through conversation patterns. The person chairing a meeting can intervene in the conversation in ways that shape space for successful collaboration. The chair can stimulate interaction by asking questions, discouraging or interrupting lengthy monologues, and inviting people’s contributions to discussions in ways that encourage swift alternation of speakers. In the special moments that a conversation is about to reach a state of ‘flow’, the chair should sit back and allow the conversation to develop spontaneously. “Even if this results in apparent chaos”, is Lise van Oortmerssen’s advice.