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I am a fresher in an IT firm and I work on two different projects, part time on both. I attend several meetings and I don't have any idea if I should talk in the meetings or not. Also, most of the time I try listening to what others say. But I make sure to talk on status update meetings alone.

Is there anything wrong with keeping silent throughout the meeting and listening to others when you don't have anything relevant to say?

  • Not really, since most of the meetings they talk about next level implementation or previous ones, and I feel everything is new for me. – Akansha Dec 10 '15 at 18:11
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    Don't forget, that even if you are relatively new, you might be able to contribute by asking good questions, even if you don't have any progress or information to share. But be careful about it, you don't want to ask things that you could easily find by looking at your docs or searching the web, you want your questions to apply to the current discussion and so on. But asking a good question about the current topic may help everyone present understand something. Also, make sure you aren't the person that spams questions and derails the conversation. – Zoredache Dec 10 '15 at 21:15
  • What is a "fresher" in this context? I've only ever heard it used as a comparative adjective, like "These apples are fresher than those.". – Joe Dec 10 '15 at 23:32
  • @Joe Fresher means new person - for example the first year in university are generally referred to as "freshers", especially for the first few months. The term isn't usually extended to business in my experience but the meaning would be the same. – Tim B Dec 11 '15 at 0:10
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    Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool, than speak out and remove all doubt. – Sobrique Dec 11 '15 at 11:17
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Meetings usually fall into two types:

  • A place to distribute information, for example a project progress meeting where someone will be giving a summary of progress to others who need to know that progress

  • A place to make some decisions, where the people attending have views on what decision to make, or are empowered to make those decisions, or have information to share that will help the decision making process

Of course some meetings are a combination of the two types- progress is discussed and then decisions are made about the subject under discussion. There are probably other meeting types that I haven't thought of but most meetings I have seem to fall into these two types.

If you do not fall into one of those person-definitions, i.e. you are not expected to give a progress report or you are neither a decision taker, nor a provider of information that helps the decision making process, then you will not be expected to speak as a matter of course.

You may be there to listen and learn, which means listening. You may be there as someone who may have valuable information on a supporting subject, in which case you should only speak when it is clear the information you possess is relevant to the discussion in hand, or someone asks your opinion.

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    Agree with this wholeheartly, but as a IT guy who started at a small firm, I had a very interesting chat with the CTO in the middle of a IT meeting which I pointed out everyone in the room knew all the root passwords (which were all the same) for all the servers, and if someone was to leave we had no easy way of ensuring they were locked out. Within 24 hours I had all the root passwords changed with only the CTO/IT maanger having that access, and everyone moved on the SSH keys. The CTO was very impressed, as was my boss; So sometimes it IS ok to speak up, if it's valid enough. – djsmiley2kStaysInside Dec 10 '15 at 18:20
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    Agree also. I'm silent in almost every meeting despite being senior - I talk about my part with the status update section. Unless there is a technical aspect to other topics that I'm qualified to comment on (or I'm asked something directly), I keep my thoughts mostly to myself for the rest of the meeting. some others talk their selves half to death and end up saying very little of value, this is a phenomenon that puzzles me. Quality is better than quantity, and people notice if you speak wisdom, even if seldom. They notice a whole lot more if you talk a load of crap every time. – nurgle Dec 11 '15 at 9:22
  • @djsmiley2k: it should be noted that, in the wrong kind of company, with the wrong kind of CTO, that move could just as well have killed your career on the spot. – Mels Dec 11 '15 at 16:52
  • Yup, but I knew I was ok at the time.... this could be true anywhere :/ – djsmiley2kStaysInside Dec 11 '15 at 17:32
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Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

— ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Unless you have reason to contribute, silence is a good thing. Some people see speaking as "having authority" which can be true, but speaking without actually being an authority makes a lot of people look bad, sometimes when they don't even know it. You're new, so focus on your listening skills.

-- the quote above is attributed to other people and restated in several ways, but I like this version...

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    Or indeed, in the words of Odin: "The ignorant booby had best be silent / When he moves among other men, / No one will know what a nit-wit he is / Until he begins to talk;" (The Hávamál, W. H .Auden & P. B. Taylor Translation) – Lilienthal Dec 10 '15 at 16:38
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    Conversely, the man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life. (Confucius). But on the whole I agree with your sentiment. – zelanix Dec 11 '15 at 11:51
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The rules of talking in work meetings are really simple:

  1. If your silence causes "bad" or misaligned discussion to continue then your silence is bad. You don't want to bring something up a day later and your coworkers are like "you could have saved us 20 minutes of debate if you would have told us that yesterday."

  2. You speak to push things forward. If you have feelings about something a simple "I agree", "Well I think we should be thinking about _____ too", or "What do you need our team to do?" would save a lot of time. A lot of times conversations linger in meetings because the wrong people are doing the talking. If you are the wrong person don't talk. If you are the right person then make some sort of verbal or nonverbal communication to push the discussion along.

  3. You can always say something funny. Just make sure you are actually funny. Got that T-Bone?

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    A warning on #3; it depends on the crowd. Even if some people find you funny, some others may very well find it offensive. – agweber Dec 10 '15 at 21:01
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Well, no, as long as you don't have anything to contribute. Be sure to listen & to show it, OTOH, for example by taking notes.

As a beginner, it's likely not much input is expected from you in meetings. If you progress in your knowledge, there will be a time you will feel the need to speak.

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Wow! I could speak at great length on this topic, but I will try to be brief.

There are all different kinds of meetings with all different kinds of expectations during meetings. If you stop reading this answer quickly, then remember this one point. When all else fails, follow the crowd. If you're doing what most everyone else is doing, then you're exercising an extremely safe option during a meeting.

For anyone who has done Agile, during the daily standup EVERYONE is expected to speak and give their status update--what did you do yesterday, what will you do today, address any roadblocks.

If a meeting is a give and take discussion trying to solve a problem, then if you have something to offer, an insight, a suggestion, or whatever, it's a really good idea to speak up with that information.

Some meetings, particularly in front of large groups, can feel like a college professor delivering information to 600 college Freshmen taking Flibertygidjit 101 in which you shut up, take notes, and try to stay awake. I delight in asking at least a question during those meetings, if for no other reason than to ensure everyone is paying attention.

I have been in meetings where someone in a leadership position is all but harping on people to speak and ask questions. Despite this "encouragement", most everyone remains silent because they know that the person leading the meeting really has no interest in our input, and when we open our mouths to speak we will get kicked and beaten, figuratively speaking. This is clearly not a normal, healthy, workplace environment, but most who have been around for a few years can speak to their experiences under these conditions.

In a normal, healthy, workplace environment, you may truly have no input to share during a meeting as you may not know enough about the subject or issue to even form an intelligent question. As such, you may attend meetings about the subject or issue over time, and then one day you may understand enough that a question strikes you so you ask. This is how I attempt to operate. If I don't know enough to ask a question, then why ask a question simply for the sake of appearing awake or interested.

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  • Thanks. I like the final point and I agree to it. Yes, today I don't know much about the core subject as I am on the path of learning. But I hope when I go in and around the subject, I should be able to make an Interactive element myself in the meeting. – Akansha Dec 10 '15 at 18:24
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There are two reasons to be present at a meeting: to receive information or distribute it. Freshers tend to have a lot more meetings on the receiving role, and there's nothing wrong with that, but you should gradually take some initiative to balance that out.

However, receiving information isn't necessarily passive. Asking opportune questions is a valuable skill in a meeting. Chances are, if you have a question, others do too. If it isn't asked, the subsequent information may be distributed in a less than optimal way.

The trick is judging your confusion level against the other participants, and how long you think it will take to answer your question. You want to defer long questions until later when they can be answered individually, but other questions can be answered quickly, and will make it much easier to follow the rest of the meeting. For example, I will sometimes interrupt a speaker to ask him or her to define an acronym.

As a side note, once you have a lot of experience in a position, if you find yourself never needing to contribute in a meeting, and never really receiving info you need to know, that's a good sign you don't need to attend. Some meeting organizers get into the bad habit of over-inviting. As a new employee, though, you should take every opportunity to learn how different parts of your business work.

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