Better Mondays - Chapter Thirteen
Meetings: They’re Not Going Away, So Make Them Serve You!
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Better Mondays - Is This Book For You? Notes From the Author
Chapter Seven - The Importance of Corporate Culture and Its Influence on Your Career
Chapter Eight - Draw a Line Between Your Personal and Business Life (And Keep it Flexible)
Chapter Eleven –Bring the Right Kind of Attention to Yourself
Better Mondays - Chapter Thirteen: Meetings: They’re Not Going Away, So Make Them Serve You!
Like them or not, meetings are an integral part of the corporation. Spontaneous meetings have become an uncontrollable epidemic. Often prompted by little more than the desire to “get everyone together,” managers use meetings as a tool to motivate and monitor their subordinates.
Whether it’s implementing a new organizational process, a strategy session, dissecting a team report, setting goals, implementing policy changes, or disseminating information, a face-to-face meeting is still the preferred method to accomplish the task.
I know of several companies with a standing schedule of a one-hour meeting every Friday morning to discuss whatever topic may be on the minds of the employees. This is a meeting to discuss anything related to the business, with no planned agenda or subject.
The biggest challenge with any meeting is making it as productive as possible. And while lots of attention has been focused on a manager’s responsibility to create a positive group dynamic, there are many ways in which you—as an attendee—can influence the tone and ultimate outcome of any meeting, even when you are not the presenter or speaker.
First, realize that as a meeting participant, your exposure, and the degree of your influence is inversely proportional to the number of participants in the room. In other words, if you’re in a meeting with 500 other people, you tend to get lost in the crowd. However, if the boss calls you and ten of your co-workers together to brainstorm the latest marketing program, your impact on others—your overall impression—is typically being evaluated and judged by everyone in the room. In fact, the smaller the meeting, the more your behavior will impact your credibility—long after the meeting is over.
The following suggestions are based on techniques designed to help you impress and persuade, regardless of whether you’re meeting one-on-one, or in a room with fifty people:
1. Match eye contact time with whoever is speaking—with an emphasis on the word “match.” Maintaining constant eye contact can be just as bad as never looking directly at the speaker. Try to balance your “eyes on” and “eyes off” time with the occasional head nod.
2. Practice your smile. Make sure it appears authentic. Your smile makes a huge impact on others, especially when they’re forming a first impression. It conveys the message that you’re engaged and listening—and you like what you hear. It’s a powerful feedback device, so use it to your advantage.
3. Remember everyone’s name. If there’s someone in the group you don’t know, jot down their name at the beginning of the meeting. If you can’t remember it or didn’t hear it, ask them to repeat it immediately.
4. Before the official start of the meeting, don’t hesitate to use “small talk.” It allows communication to begin without the risk of exposing your ideas and opinions too soon. If you need to start the ball rolling, ask, “How’s your day going, on a scale of one to ten?” Unless the answer is “ten” (it seldom is), say, “Let’s see if we can’t move that to a higher number.” (I wish I could credit the originator of this exchange, but I have no idea who it is; I overheard it used by a seminar attendee and thought it was worth repeating.)
5. Have some idea of what you want others to take away from the meeting—and from meeting you. These are often not the same thing. Your goal is to leave others with a positive impression after interacting with you—to ensure they continue to be receptive to future communication and business. Promote your agenda, but keep it flexible and don’t push or force your ideas and opinions on others in an effort to make your point.
6. Test the timing. What’s the mood of the decision-makers? How receptive are they to listening to others? Do they seem rushed, distracted, or preoccupied? Rather than risk an automatic “No” to your proposal or suggestion—because the decision-makers are overwhelmed with other business or personal matters—hold off on suggesting a new idea or making an important presentation until you have a more receptive audience.
7. Pace subtle aspects of body language exhibited by others in the room, especially the one talking. Mirroring others helps establish subliminal levels of rapport. This is an extremely powerful technique and can help increase your influence over others.
8. If you’re meeting with customers, avoid over-the-top clothing or accessories that divert attention away from you and toward your possessions. People want to do business with those who make wise financial decisions. You might impress a few people with a $10,000 Rolex, but the majority of the wealthy and successful may question not only how you manage your money, but how you would manage their money as well.
9. Be in your seat five minutes early. If you don’t want to appear overly anxious or you need to prevent any pre-meeting conversation that could lessen the leverage of your planned contribution, arrive early and wait in the car or restroom until you can walk through the door exactly on time.
10. Eliminate “up-talking.” It’s become an epidemic. Also called “up-speak,” it’s a vocal rise at the end of a declarative sentence. Studies show 70% of the population find it annoying and will judge you less intelligent or credible for doing it.
11. Adhere to the 80/20 rule: Listen 80 percent of the time, talk 20 percent. If there are more than three people in the meeting and everyone is taking turns speaking, reduce your speaking time accordingly unless you’re asked for details, feedback, or to expand on the subject. If you need to create more productive speaking time in a larger group, first ask for someone’s opinion about the subject. This typically provides you with the opportunity to thank them for their input, comment on their contribution, and segue to the point you want to make.
12. When replying to the last person speaking, match their rate of speech for the first two sentences, then move to your usual speed.
13. Avoid interrupting. Interruptions are unprofessional and impolite. Wait for a silent count of “two” before speaking.
14. Ask questions. “Do you have the details on that? What’s the down-side (or up-side) of the situation? How did you handle that particular challenge?” To avoid overwhelming the speaker, ask one question at a time.
15. Never check your cell phone or answer a call during a meeting. Giving your cell phone priority over those in attendance is rude and demeaning. You agreed to meet for a reason. Don’t make others regret their decision.
What if you don’t have anything to say? If you have nothing to say (because you’re unfamiliar with the subject or haven't had a chance to do any homework), it’s going to be difficult, and maybe even risky, to make an intelligent comment. However, sitting quietly without offering any input or feedback also carries a risk, suggesting you’re not interested, you’re bored, or not a team player. If you find yourself in this situation, consider using one of these strategies:
1. Infer that you’ve reviewed the opposite viewpoint of the one being discussed. You don’t present the opposing opinion or alternative as an argument, but as a helpful side comment. This implies you’ve looked at the situation from the alternative standpoint, and can’t find the same advantages as the one favored by management. In other words, you’re in agreement, and you’re offering your personal validation that the boss has done a good job, effectively placing a halo on the head of your superior (the halo effect). In most cases, you won’t need to reveal what the alternatives are, because you’ve confirmed that the best choice is the one currently on the table.
By the way, this can also give others the impression that you’re a big-picture guy—someone who is creative and can generate useful ideas and viewpoints, even when you bring nothing new to the discussion.
2. Become the fly on the wall. Another way to generate useful comments during a meeting is to transition your perspective to “third-position.” This means mentally lifting yourself above the conversation and viewing the interchange as if you were a fly on the wall. Ask yourself what’s taking place between the participants? Is it positive, negative, or neutral? What’s missing or needs to be said? What could you add to support management’s position based on a specific experience or a previous situation?
3. Ask questions that can be answered with a positive response. This simple technique is surprisingly powerful and can help you make a great impression. The key is to ask questions in such a way that implies a supportive attitude. Here’s an example:
Our company had adopted the concept of Management by Objective (MBO) as a motivational tool to use with wholesale distributors. Implementation of the program required hours of preparation and face-to-face planning with distributor management, as well as a rigorous schedule of on-going evaluation and documentation. It was, in a nutshell, a time-consuming, paperwork nightmare that promised to be a royal pain in the ass.
After our boss introduced the program, he asked for comments. One of the new hires asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Isn’t this just another bunch of forms that have to be filled out, creating more paperwork, and adding to the customer’s perception of our company as being overly concerned with administrative oversight?”
The boss was silent for a moment and then agreed that it was certainly one possible reaction. Before he could continue, another new hire jumped in with this question:
“What if we use this as a planning tool to determine the resources the distributor needs to do a better job at selling our products? Any resistance we receive from management could be countered by offering additional training for their sales force with an offer to accompany them on sales calls. Having the factory rep along would give their salespeople greater credibility and open more doors. We could even sponsor a contest to reward their top salesperson with a plaque and a gift certificate to a nice restaurant.”
The result? The guy who asked the first question left before the end of the year, complaining about the lack of advancement opportunities. The second guy—who, by the way, in my opinion, had the least likely set of skills to manage anyone—was promoted to a regional position within 18 months.
Did their respective career success with Acme have anything to do with integrating the MBO program into their customer network? No, not specifically. However, what did make a difference was their receptivity, support, and general attitude as it was perceived by management.
There are always questions you can generate about a new topic or subject. Just make sure your questions convey your support, while casting the subject and management in a positive light.
Advanced strategies for private, one-on-one meetings
One-on-one’s are typically reserved for performance reviews, exchanges of proprietary information, or when the boss wants you to know you’re being considered for possible advancement, a special assignment, or termination.
One of the worse things that can occur during a private meeting with your boss is to be asked a question you’re not prepared to answer. Unexpected questions hitting you blindside not only opens the possibility of sticking your foot in your mouth, it can also make you appear uninformed and incapable of thinking on your feet.
Your best defense?
Ask for permission to set the question aside for a few minutes. This reduces the pressure to answer with an off-the-cuff comment that could easily disclose your ignorance about the subject. In many cases, it also diffuses the perception of being unprepared and gives you time to think of an acceptable answer. If your boss insists on a first impression or an immediate response, say “I’ve been researching the possible outcomes, and I really want to get this one right. I know how important it is to make sure we’ve covered all the contingencies, and I have just a few more sources to check. Can we revisit this in an hour or so?”
For example, you could ask for a few minutes to make a follow-up phone call that will provide that final piece of information you’ve been waiting for. Explain that it’s the last piece of the puzzle you need to produce the most accurate answer possible. This implies you’ve been working on the subject and are close to bringing it to a conclusion. Then use the time to your best advantage.
If the question is in the form of an ultimatum . . . consider your list of non-negotiable items. These are your reasons—justifications—for why you work at ABC corporation in the first place. It’s also why it’s important to create your list of bottom-line, “must-have” needs upfront, and periodically review them as circumstances dictate.
If you have to give in on one or more of your priorities in the short term, but believe there’s a good chance of coming out ahead in the long run, it’s usually the better choice to give in and set a date (with yourself) to review your progress under the compromised conditions. If you go this route, avoid revealing any personal reservations or exhibiting any hint of negativity to your supervisor.
The flip side? If compromising one or more of your “non-negotiables” is going to affect your happiness, your relationship with your family, or your gut reaction is a strong “No,” it’s a red flag, and you should weigh the consequences very carefully. Remember, it’s why you made your list of personal priorities in the first place.
If you feel the discussion is going against you . . . and a decision is about to be made that is not in your best interest, ask for the courtesy of more time. In this case, you’re looking for a reason to delay the final verdict. Anything you can do to push the decision into the future will help defuse the emotional need to bring the matter to a sudden and perhaps unfortunate conclusion. Just as important, more time will give you an opportunity to find out more about the motivation and the intentions of those who may be working against you, or perhaps, working on behalf of someone else. Use the same delaying strategy we discussed before, rationalizing your request with the need to research or confirm some aspects of the topic, especially the circumstances influencing management’s predisposition. If necessary, stress the importance of making an objective and informed decision—something you both want.
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.