Let’s talk about business meetings. Yes, the bane of our professional lives. Those endless sessions where everyone is talking in circles and no one can seem to get to the point. Time, and your life force, is trickling away before your eyes.
“Why is no one controlling this?” you wonder. “Shouldn’t someone step in and move this forward?”
Yes, someone should. And knowing how to do so can be a huge asset to your career. It’s relatively simple but, like most interpersonal skills, it does take a little gumption and finesse. And here’s the bonus kicker: it’s a skill that will also serve you well as a manager.
Great managers are clear thinkers who are able to sort through tons of information and break it down into meaningful actions. They have a cohesive effect on their teams by helping everyone stay focused on a clear goal. Great managers are awesome facilitators who are able to direct events toward a positive outcome.
Now, don’t you wish you had someone like that in those meandering, time-sucking meetings? Everyone does. That’s why meetings are the perfect place to practice your management skills and demonstrate your ability to lead. Here’s how:
Be aware of the reasons meetings are unproductive:
- lack of a clear direction;
- getting bogged down in detail, or
- drifting off into high level visioning;
- dominant and/or withdrawn participants;
- personal agendas
Always practice effective listening. I’ve covered this topic in the classroom, so I know you just rolled your eyes. Yes, it’s basic stuff but I stand by its importance. Be attentive and engaged, both mentally and physically. Focus on the speaker, listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Look for nonverbal cues and other subtle dynamics. Fight the urge to zone out or work on other projects. And most importantly, get in the habit of taking notes.
Learn to summarize and paraphrase. Here is where your note-taking comes in. Recording key words and phrases helps you focus in on the most important information being covered. Check for understanding by conveying the information back simply and concisely. Put the information into your own words but without questioning or judging. Your goal is to facilitate, not force your own agenda or dominate the meeting.
Be respectful. A warm, friendly and humble demeanor goes a long way. If you’re not officially leading the meeting, be careful of overstepping. Practice a few phrases to help you act as a clarifier, and be seen as leader, without insulting the meeting organizer.
“I’m having trouble following multiple threads here. Could we focus on ____ ?”
“Can we take a moment to recap?”
“Just to make sure I’m clear, we’re saying ____”
“Let me make sure I’ve captured this, our actions items are ____.”
And, ultimately, it never hurts to be the one who brings the donuts.
(Photo by Dave Crosby via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)