How often have you gathered a work group around a whiteboard only to be surprised by how little people seem to want to contribute? All the ideas that have been raised individually or added to documents or Slack threads suddenly missing from the discussion.
It can feel frustrating, like you’re the only person who cares about the problem. Often this results in you, or someone else going off alone to work out a solution by themselves, because if no one else cares then you might as well be the one to sort this out. Right?
Well, in many of these cases the problem is a simple one. Simply, you didn’t give them the pen.
The person holding the pen in a whiteboarding session is the person in control. Standing beside the board holding a pen with the rest of the group sitting facing you is a power dynamic. You’ve placed yourself in the teacher role and no matter how much they like it the others are here as your audience.
When you hold the pen you get to be the one to represent the problem to the group. You get to draw out the options and you get to manage the pace of the discussion.
For someone who wants to demonstrate authority this can be a really simple way to do so. If you find yourself in a room with a group of senior people and you want to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about try picking up a pen and drawing the problem out.
But If you want other people to take a more active role in a discussion simply hand them the pen.