Bloviate is a verb, usually attributed to the oral meanderings of politicians. It’s one of those words that sounds a lot like what it is – to blow hot air – or, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.” To blow hot air indeed.

Unfortunately, bloviating is not limited to the chambers of government. It happens in conference rooms and board rooms too. In fact, in some organizations, the bloviators are well known and their long-winded command of nothing is expected and – all too often – accepted as inevitable.

Well, in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness, I’m calling out those who bloviate and those who enable them. It’s time to stop – if not in the interest of efficiency (time) and effectiveness (getting things done), then in the interest of your audiences because their time and attention are precious commodities. Audiences may be clients, employees, partners, suppliers, regulators, stakeholders, or simply colleagues. No matter who they are, I’m willing to bet that not one of them appreciates, enjoys, learns from, or is impressed by a bloviator.

Following are a few of the ways in which people bloviate in meetings and what to do about it.

The floor hog. Yes, that one person who seems to love the sound of their own voice. Once they get the floor, it’s hard to wrestle it away from them.

The fabricator. This is the person who doesn’t know the answer to a question but keeps talking (and, to those more in the know, keeps digging the hole deeper).

The know-it-all. Smartest-person-in-the-room syndrome somehow never afflicts the person who is, in fact, the smartest person in the room. It’s usually someone who, for whatever reason, feels the need to puff themselves up.

The empty suit. This person may look the part but doesn’t know what they’re doing … or saying. And they don’t have the self-awareness or good graces to keep quiet.

Do these bloviating types sound familiar? I bet they do. And I bet your eyes rolled back in your head at least once. The fix is tough, though, because the common thread among these types is that they’re not audience-centric and therefore not good listeners or well-attuned to social cues (an understatement perhaps).

Given these limitations, neither being subtle nor confronting them as a means of correcting the behavior are likely to be very successful. It is therefore best to use behavior modification tactics. For example, try some of these:

  • set and enforce strict meeting agendas with pre-assigned participants and pre-assigned allotments of time for each;
  • select or assign a senior person to be the official interruptor of your bloviating colleague;
  • if you can (i.e. in internal or informal meetings), call an abrupt end to the meeting once the hot air begins to blow; or
  • if possible, stop inviting them to meetings.

Once it starts to affect their career opportunities and prospects, the bloviator might well sit up and take notice. Until then, it’s up to others to find ways to send the message not with the use of hot air but by taking action.

Beth Levine