Leadership Communication:To Slam or Not to Slam a Table


Posted on November 29th, by Debbie Brown in Leadership. 15 comments

Leadership Communication:To Slam or Not to Slam a Table

I have been reading a lot over the last few years about communication and have been fascinated by what the books share as differences between men and women in this area. I have begun to make adjustments and pay closer attention to my habits, like not raising my hand to speak, watching my posture and what I am doing with my hands and my stance.

Yesterday, I slammed the table and stunned the room. Today, I am trying to figure out whether that is me and whether it matters or not. It was a safe place and I was fascinated by the result.

The setting was a non- profit board meeting for which, as a member, I was asked to facilitate. We are an all volunteer team and working on this board has provided a safe place for me to hone my leadership skills. The board is diverse. Of the 4 men and 3 women,  3 were born outside the US. I was facilitating a topic and the conversations were intense and veering off track. This particular conversation needed to move forward. After allowing everyone in the room to have their say,  people again started talking over each other and getting off track. I slammed the table with both hands and said, “Hey, we need to move on.”  The room got silent and we were able to mov

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e forward with the meeting.

I never did that before and was fascinated with the result and the feedback.

At the next break, the feedback was very positive from Western (US and UK) colleagues. They said it was effective, it brought everyone back and they thanked me. A Far East colleague had the polar opposite reaction and advised I don't do that outside of a safe environment and went on to tell me to “be myself.” A colleague from the Middle East chimed right in and said, I think it's cultural” and we went on to talk about how America is viewed outside the US. I wondered if it were a man hitting the table whether the feedback would have been the same.

It was so interesting.

What tweaks are you making in your communications at the table these days?

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Debbie Brown is a Senior Sales Executive in Analytics, Software and Services . The majority of her career has been spent managing people and teams in software and services provided to the HR industry. Debbie enjoys sharing leadership best practices and as an avid reader is always happy to share great book recommendations. You can connect with Debbie on Twitter as @DebbieJBrown.

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15 thoughts on “Leadership Communication:To Slam or Not to Slam a Table

  1. Debbie,

    Thank you for sharing this. I find people’s responses fascinating. I am very curious – did you make the decision to slam your hands and do it as an experiment? Or was it a natural reaction to your frustration in the moment?

  2. - Great stuff, Neil. Super backlit shots (hope teh spdghlieet didn’t fall out of the tree!) and the evening shot with the dramatic sky is excellent. How did you get the weird light streaks??

  3. Debbie,

    First, what courage to bring this question for all of us to comment about. I appears you were showing fear (low core value) in your anger to strike the table. This then appealed to the fear response in all your board members. Is this a correct assessment? As a suggestion, high core values seek to lead by inspiring and guiding others to be their best selves. Without being there, it sounds like you were facilitating a critical thinking discussion where everyone was focused on their own opinions? To quote Gus Lee (Courage – the backbone of leadership, 2012) this is known as a “Fur Ball.” Fur Balls are what drains the energy out of any meeting or room where discerning the highest moral outcome or action is what is needed. Striking the desk was a very risky decision. This action could have sent different messages to your members about perceived skills and abilities to facilitate in that setting. What if you gained their attention and defined the need to move to a higher level of discernment about your topic? Define discernment as seeking a high moral outcome, and ask that each discern the correct action for what was being discussed and write it on a post-it and put them on the wall? Would this have helped you lead them to be their better selves, thus providing the outcomes and relationship building that this board (any board) must develop to be successful. Regards, Bill

    • Bill thank you for the input. I do not believe anger or fear were in this equation….it was more of a clap of noise to demonstrate how off track we were…and there are many different ways to bring the meeting back.

  4. I agree with Lori that it depends on the setting and your relationship with the group. It sounds like you have an established relationship with this group and that your action didn’t cause damage. Now that you’ve gotten feedback from the group, you can assess how to best regain control in the future. As long as you don’t do it all the time, I think it’s just fine.

    I regularly facilitate our executive team and have sometimes had to be forceful in getting them back on track. This could mean raising my voice above the din or clapping my hands to get their attention. (For some context, I am female and younger than everyone else on the team, which is evenly split between males and females.) Had I slammed a table, I think it would have commanded respect because I don’t normally use such tactics. My approach is to only “go nuclear” when it’s absolutely warranted and then people know you’re serious. For the record, the most “nuclear” I’ve gone was to firmly but respectfully correct my boss in a meeting who was talking while I was facilitating. The group seemed to appreciate it because it had been distracting them from the discussion and my boss knew he was wrong, so he straightened right up.

  5. I have been in meetings where someone slammed the desk with their fist and it has always looked bad. To me this signifies a loss of control and it is a point where I stop taking someone seriously for their ideas and become more concerned about their inability to control anger.

    • Great suggestion for anyone working in a multinational environment- thank you Paula- !

  6. You simply must be kidding me. Your role was to facilitate and you slammed the table. huh?! West, East, Middle East, Far East: there are about 100 other ways to bring the dialog back to the center without slamming the table.

  7. My comment would be that it depends on what your relationship is to the group you are with at that time and your intent. I was recently in a meeting where the person saw their role as a coach with our team. When she slammed her hand down on the table, we were stunned. Her tone, body language, and intent of the conversation went from “we to ME” and it ruined the relationship and our interaction in that meeting. Since we have terminated our relationship with her. Just some food for thought.