3+4≠7. Maximizing Your Meetings.For conversations, 3+4 is not equal 7. This is because active conversations can’t have more than you and four other people. When you have a roundtable of twenty, only four others will actively exchange in one coherent dialogue at a given time. Everyone else will wait for their turn. Usually, with groups as large as 20 or 200, we need special structures such as raising hands or a pre-assigned order. Think about parliaments or large company meetings. They are all designed such that there are as few people exchanging at any one time as possible. As we’ve mentioned in another post Something To Talk About, even Shakespeare’s plays don’t have more than four speakers engaged in a conversation at once (counting choruses as one speaker, of course). Psychologists have several explanations for this:
- First, our hearing capacity is limited—we simply can’t hear well enough if there are so many people.
- Second, our short-term memory can’t store so much information.
- Third, we can’t model the minds of so many people at once—thinking about what others know, feel and think is crucial for meaningful conversations.