Microsoft is working hard to shut up the egotistical blowhard on your team

Does it take science to get an annoying loudmouth to shut up? Microsoft thinks it may.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Woman discussing work on video call with team members at office

Someone on that screen needs to stop talking.

Getty Images

You know that person.

You work with that person.

You really don't like that person.

I suspect in the majority of cases, that person is a man.

He knows better. He begins sentences with, "In my view," or "Historically," or "The point is..." And when you encounter him in a meeting, you want to tell him to just shut it.

But, even if you did, he probably wouldn't notice. He's too busy being in love with his own voice, his own supreme confidence, and his own ability to correct you.

This may surprise you, but Microsoft wants to help you with this. More precisely, it wants its scientists to help you.

In a recent WorkLab entry, Microsoft described hybrid meetings as sometimes chaotic. So its scientists have tried to categorize the different sorts of interruptions that happen in meetings.

Mere interjections, like "Super," for example.

As opposed to what it describes as "power interruptions," Microsoft -- and science in general -- doesn't exactly soften its description of these people. It says these interruptions are "truly hostile takeovers, whether deliberate or by someone totally unaware."

Also: The rules of work are changing, and hybrid work is winning 

It will stun you into certain oblivion when I tell you that, when the company's researchers analyzed anonymized meeting transcripts, it found certain patterns.

As the Microsoft's principal researcher in human-computer interaction, Sean Rintel, put it: "You could clearly find patterns of people taking long turns or interrupting somebody else on a regular basis."

Now it could be that these people are actually running the meeting and trying to chivvy it along. It could also be that they are self-regarding dunderheads who should never be anywhere near a corporate hierarchy.

It seems that Microsoft would adore it if companies could perform their own analyses, but it's not stopping there. It's trying to find concrete, lasting answers.

Microsoft is also experimenting with the use of spatial audio to, as it were, equalize the distance between those working remotely and those in the office.

It's easier to pick up cues when you're in the same physical space. Spatial audio gives you a clue as to which direction someone's words are coming from.

Also: Remote work vs office life: Lots of experiments and no easy answers

I confess that when I'm in a Teams meeting, it's hard to know precisely when to talk -- unless invited -- and I always feel the need to keep my speech short. (A blessing for others, I know.) 

It's also extremely difficult to interrupt -- if one actually feels it's important -- as you're not sure whether people can see that's what you're trying to do. (Yes, you can put your hand up, physically or virtually, but it's not so easy.)

I'm not sure how well or how quickly science can change behavior -- it seemed to struggle with far too many people during COVID.

Yet it would be fascinating if Microsoft could find some way to get through to truly incorrigible egotists.

"Hey, senior manager. Do you realize how much you interrupt and need to bloviate? All. The. Time."

"Did you say something? I was busy talking."

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