Reducing Conflict 83 Wasting Time

March 5, 2023

Does wasting time cause conflict? In my leadership classes, I have the participants brainstorm the most significant sources of interpersonal conflict. Invariably, the group comes up with “wasting my time” as one of the highest contributors to conflict.

It stands to reason because time is the most precious commodity we have.  Two conditions make something precious: 1) how important it is, and 2) how scarce it is.  Time is precious because it is all we really have. Scarcity is there because we cannot get more than 24×7.

Why wasting time creates conflict

I was having a brainstorm with my team years ago and we got on the topic of time.  To a person, they decided that the time spent in routine meetings was the most significant source of frustration. It did not matter if the meeting was in-person or virtual. The frustration came from sitting there and wishing you could be doing something else.

Let’s do something about wasting time

As we discussed the situation, I pointed out that we are in control of how our time is used. We have the power to make significant inroads in our use of time together. After some discussion, we decided to use the “time out” hand signal from sports as a tool.

If a person in the group felt we were wasting time, they could make the “time out” sign. That action would call the question. It was then up to the leader of the meeting to inquire if others felt the same way. If enough people agreed, then the group would move on to another topic.

Why it worked

I set a rule that we would not put down anyone for using the time out signal. That rule set the expectation of safety where people could make their thoughts known.  It was critical that I handle each use of the tool with respect. 

At first, there was some testing within the group.  If someone would snicker at the gesture, I would remind them of the rule. It did not take long for the rule to become commonplace and part of the culture.

Establishing a new group norm

Eventually, people were able to anticipate the gesture and move ahead automatically. Also, it was a good team building exercise to respect others’ opinions.  We even got to the point where we adopted other signals to call a different question.

Another example

As a team, we agreed that we would not make jokes at the expense of others.  That is a bad habit in many teams.  The jokes are in jest, but they do damage at some level. We agreed to never make a joke at the expense of an individual on the team. 

That idea happened to be the third rule we considered. We elected to show three fingers of one hand if there was a violation.

As we used the rule, the group became more respectful of the other individuals.


It is up to the leader of any team to establish the ground rules.  Do not overlook the concept of a simple hand gesture as a way to communicate. In my team, it led to more efficient meetings, which ultimately resulted in less conflict.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Body Language 57 Time Out

December 6, 2019

The time out signal is a common hand gesture that is rarely misinterpreted, yet there are some subtle differences in meaning to discuss.

Let’s focus in on the different meanings first and then cover a highly useful application of the gesture in an organization setting.

Please stop talking

If another person is babbling on in a private setting or in a group meeting, you can signal it is time to stop talking and start listening by using the time out signal. This is a helpful use when you are having a hard time getting your points out.

The caveat here is that you would use the gesture sparingly. If you made the motion two or three times, it would most certainly annoy the person who is speaking. It would seem like you are cutting off the person.

Also, this use would be ill-advised if you used it to shut up a superior. If the boss wants to talk, it is usually a good idea to allow it.

I need time to think

When a lot of information is being shared in a steady stream, people sometimes need a break for their brains to catch up with the content. The time out gesture would let the presenter know it is time to at least slow down so all people can understand and absorb the content.

This topic is dangerous

You might warn a fellow worker that to pursue a certain line of reasoning is going to backfire. Rather than interrupt the person verbally, the time out signal will call the question and let the speaker know it would be wise to change the subject. You could accompany the hand signal with facial cues that indicate caution, just be sure to verify the right message was received and was not misinterpreted.

Time for a counterpoint

If one person is landing multiple points in support of a one-sided viewpoint and you want to allow some balance, the time out signal will provide that opportunity without saying any words.

Need a break

If, during a long presentation, you or others need to take a bio break, the time out signal can let the facilitator know it is time to take care of the bodily functions. Also, maybe the group just needs to stretch and take in some oxygen.

Call for a vote

If several arguments have been given on a hotly divided topic and you want to call for a vote, the time out signal can get that message out, even while the conversation is continuing.

Need to caucus

During negotiations, it is often necessary to separate teams to discuss strategy. The time out signal is useful for letting the parties know they need to separate for a while.

We are wasting time

Perhaps the most helpful use of the time out sign is in a meeting situation where one person in the room feels the group is spinning wheels going over the same content or dwelling on trivial content when there are more important things to discuss.

This technique is an excellent way to prevent wasting time, but everyone in the group needs to agree ahead of time that nobody will be punished for showing the time out sign. The idea is to establish a group norm that allows the signal to be given by any individual with no negative repercussions.

It is then up to the leader of the group to acknowledge that at least one person has an issue. The first order of business is to thank the individual for expressing a concern, and then find out what the specific concern is.

It may be that the individual wants the group to take a break, or maybe the person feels the current content is not proper or redundant. Get an accurate description of why the person gave the time out signal. This is done by asking open-ended questions.

The leader would then check if others have the same feeling, and if so, make the change. If the person giving the hand signal is the only person interested in changing direction, then he or she needs to be treated with respect for the input but recognize there are other opinions among the group members.

The time out hand signal is a wonderful tool if used correctly, as described above. If used with a heavy hand or followed by ridicule then significant damage to trust is being done. It is up to leaders to set the tone for the correct usage so the method will be a way to enhance trust and transparency over time.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”