I was looking through my old drafts and came across this one. It’s a half-baked execution of an important concept.

W.A.I.T. Why am I talking?

Tell me if any of these sound familiar:

  • You are talking to someone and you lose track of what you wanted to say halfway through a sentence?
  • You spend more time thinking about how you want to respond to someone instead of listening to what they are saying?
  • You chime in, only to add a comment you meant to add five minutes ago but the conversation took a different turn but, dammit, you are going to share that thought!?

Enter W.A.I.T. Or Why Am I Talking?

This is an improv tool we are taught any time we want to interrupt, or join, a scene. We are challenged to ask ourselves:

  • What am I adding? What characters are joining the scene and how does that raise the stakes?
  • What am I taking away? What is the existing story and how might my addition detract from that?
  • Does the scene, and my scene partners, need me or are they doing better without me (in this moment)? Does anyone need my help or is the story a success already?

W.A.I.T. doesn’t mean don’t join in. But, as the name implies, it means to wait, take a pause, reflect, and ensure you inject yourself at the right time. This is not a trick exclusive for improvisers. It applies to meetings, workshops, and presentations too. Before jumping into a meeting, a presentation, or a workshop, consider:

  • What am I adding? How does my expertise or my perspective add to the current conversation? Not the conversation we wrapped 10-minutes ago or the next item on the agenda, but the current conversation?
  • What am I taking away? From a technical perspective, how might I be diminishing the value of one part of a conversation for my perceived priority? As a white male, how might my joining a conversation diminish or detract the valuable input of an underrepresented group/individual in tech. (Listen, I know race, gender, and all sorts of discrimination are hard to discuss. I also recognize them as real problems. I am no expert on these topics but I do acknowledge the privilege I have had in life. I’ll keep this note short so that I hopefully avoid putting my foot in my mouth)
  • Does the workshop, and my project team, need me or are they doing better without me (in this moment)? Similar to what might I be taking away, trust in the expertise and skills of your team. They’ve got this. Support them, encourage them, fill in gaps. But make sure they are gaps to highlight their skills and expertise, not your own.

So the next time we want to open our mouths in a meeting, especially the white dudes in the group, stop and W.A.I.T. Challenge yourself for what you want to say, what it adds, and what/who it might take away from. See how efficiencies are gained when we support the voices already in the room rather than trying to add our own.

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