How Smart Employees Play Hard to Get

In every company there is always at least one of them. The one who has to be first at everything. You know who I am talking about — you might even be next to him in a meeting right now. He is the one speed-walking to the conference room so he can grab the seat right next to the demanding boss before anyone else gets there. He has to answer every question before it is even asked.

He does not realize it, but it’s completely annoying to everyone else in the room.

I can understand why it happens. There are smart, interested people in every organization who want to make a difference. And sometimes there are others who simply want to get the first word in.

They are the first ones to chime in at meetings, eager to show off what they know. They actively participate and readily agree with what everyone says. And lots of times they simply repeat what has already been said. Sigh.

They think that if they jump higher than everyone else, they are sure to get noticed. But sometimes the smartest thing you can do is play hard to get.

What do I mean by “hard to get?”

I am not talking about being coy or playing head games. I am talking about listening deeply and intentionally to each person — while also keeping your mouth shut. Your only agenda is to listen for understanding. This requires practice and patience before formulating your response.

You might think that being quiet and holding back at meetings sounds like bad advice, but believe me, it works.

Here’s why. The person who speaks last can:

Frame the conversation
When your intent is to just listen, your mind will not be preoccupied by what you want to say. Like a reporter, you can take in each person’s contribution to the conversation. Then, once you hear from the others, you can create structure for the meeting by reiterating the most important points that you just heard and threading them together. Your narrative will help the conversation take shape.

Summarize the problem
The other participants may feel passionately one way or the other, and have difficulty seeing the problem objectively. Because you have not shared an opinion or taken a side, you can remain neutral while you sum up the problem. With your level-headed approach, you can help to mediate between the different camps.

Suggest a new approach
People who are swept into a heated discussion may find it difficult to see straight, let alone think creatively about a problem. Because you have remained an observer, you can see possibilities where others cannot at the moment. You can offer a brand-new way of thinking about the problem and open their eyes to other possible solutions.

Lay out pros and cons
Once every team member has contributed, you will have a complete and well-rounded view of the situation and know where everyone stands. Then you can present the advantages and disadvantages as you see them. You can bring the meeting to a point of action and a well-organized conclusion, in which everyone is clear on the problem and the best course of action.

People who are always the first to speak may be conversation-starters. But they often do not have all the facts at hand. As a result, their contributions are not as valuable as they would be if they had simply waited to hear all sides and then shared a well-informed opinion.

Smart employees know that listening for understanding is an art. The mastery of that can be a powerful tool.

It may take practice, but you can discern the best time to listen and the best time to speak. At the next opportunity, resist the urge to speak right away. Be more of the silent type until you have something meaningful to contribute.

Practice listening to each person in the room. At the end, simply describe the overall themes that you heard and where you stand on the matter. Your feedback will add more value to the conversation and demonstrate a mature way of thinking and participating.

Have you ever played “hard to get” at the office?

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