ANOTHER MEETING?Â If youâ€™re a manager, a team leader, or an executive, your day is probably full of meetings. This article will teach you not only how to make your meetings more productive, but also how to exert more influence while youâ€™re at it. Â As a meeting leader, you have a great opportunity to use your influence skills to your advantage and achieve the results you want.
Thereâ€™s nothing more frustrating than sitting through a meeting thatâ€™s pointless- and seems endless.Â Not only can unproductive meetings waste everyoneâ€™s time (consuming up to 50 percent of the average managerâ€™s work week), but, considering the salaries of the participants, they can get pretty expensive, too.Â Here are some guidelines to get your meeting back on track- so you can get back to work!
Influence the Outcome by Setting a Specific Agenda
Do you want to make an announcement, get people to discuss some new development, request their input, or mediate some conflict within the department?Â Let others know ahead of time what you expect of them to bring to a meeting (background information, reports, etc.) and what, specifically, you expect to accomplish (a workable budget for next yearâ€™s campaign, for example).
Ask members beforehand what items they think should be included in the meetingâ€™s agenda.Â This will encourage them to feel more involved and committed, and they will be more likely to work collaboratively.Â Then, before you finalize the agenda, ask yourself some key questions: What is the current situation?Â What result is needed?Â What decisions could come out of this meeting?Â If you can agree upon goalsÂ beforeÂ the meeting, sidetracking peripheral discussions will be kept to a minimum, the group will have an easier time staying focused, and you will be better able to control and influence the flow of the discussion.
Using your Influence to Manage the Meeting
Itâ€™s important to create a climate in which all opinions are valid and valued.Â One common problem is that certain people are too shy or insecure to speak up at meetings, even though they may have valuable contributions to make.Â A variation on this problem is the â€œsilent treatmentâ€ -a person vents hostility by withholding important information from others in the group.
A good way to create a receptive climate is to poolÂ allÂ members present, especially the quiet ones, to find out whatâ€™s on their minds.Â You might try something like â€œDoes everyone think what Ann has proposed is a feasible idea?Â Can anyone think of anything that might go wrong in terms of production, quality control, durability, sales? Â Has anyone had any experience with something like this that has worked well? Â Any experience with something not working well?â€Â By encouraging all opinions, especially dissenting ones, youâ€™ll get what people are thinking out in the open.
While the idea is to establish a policy of openness for free exchange at meetings, watch out for the group member who takes advantage of the occasion to vent his personal distrust and disapproval.Â When members dominate a meeting by being aggressive or violating other peopleâ€™s rights, theyâ€™re probably suffering from insecurity and a need for attention.Â The best way to handle them is by demonstrating control and assertiveness-donâ€™t ignore them or give them negative attention; instead, confront the problem directly.Â Show that youâ€™re listening by such nonverbal messages as making direct eye contact and turning your body towards the speaker.Â If the person feels confident that youâ€™re listening, he or she wonâ€™t have to resort to such antics to get attention.
Once you get the meeting rolling, Â bounce ideas off different people.Â For example: â€œGeorge is making an interesting suggestion here about the processing centerâ€™s time log.Â Ellen, how does that fit with your experience when they tried that in the western region?
Set a climate of precise, clear, open communication.Â If a member makes a vague or fuzzy statement, ask questions until youâ€™re clear about what the speaker means.Â Fuzzy speaking is often an indicator of fuzzy thinking; by forcing people to be more specific, you are helping them getÂ theirÂ thoughts straight.Â An added benefit of this approach is that people on your staff soon may begin to speak with more precision and clarity.
During the meeting, focus on desired outcomes rather than problems.Â Too often, attempts at identifying problems deteriorate into long-winded gripe session about unrelated issues.Â Also, when groups start discussing problems, itâ€™s all too easy to attribute cause or blame to other departments or other people.Â A focus on desired outcomes will put people in a positive frame of mind and get them to think about the ideal situation or goal. Â Here is where your gentle but positive influence can guide the tone and focus of the meeting.
To keep track of whatâ€™s going on, keep a flip chart, a notebook, or a chalkboard near you to record information as itâ€™s given. Ask for a volunteer to be Â responsible for the meeting record so that you wonâ€™t be distracted from your job as a leader.
Make sure everyone leaves the meeting with the same idea of what is to be done-and how it is to be done.Â Be precise and clear when Â giving assignments, and ask people to be specific when they volunteer some service.Â Use an easygoing tone of voice so you do not come off as a cross-examiner.Â You simply want to put everyone on the same wavelength.Â For example, if someone says, â€œIâ€™ll do a report,â€ ask, â€œWhat will the report include?Â How long will it be, what will it accomplish, and what form will it be in?â€Â Ask questions until Â youâ€™re satisfied that both you and the writer have a clear idea of what this report will be like when you see it.
Another way to determine whether people are clear on their duties is to go around the room at the end of the meeting and ask, â€œWhat is your understanding of whatâ€™s expected of you?â€Â You may feel that it is impolite or unfair to challenge people in this way.Â On the contrary, you are doing them a service by helping them clarify what they mean and what theyâ€™re promising to deliver. This is whatÂ truly influential leaders do.
When people understand exactly what you want, they feel much more comfortable about producing it.Â They donâ€™t waste time or put off a project because theyâ€™re not sure they are doing it right.
Once the group has arrived at some tentative, workable solutions, restate the main points and decisions made at the meeting.Â (If someone is taking minutes, this will help too.) Â As the meeting breaks up, you should already be thinking ahead to the next one, so get people to publicly volunteer to take specific action before the next meeting.
How to Deal with Problem People at Meetings
||Start meetings on time-donâ€™t wait for stragglers.
||Get a commitment from all members at the beginning of the meeting to stay until the end.
||(Brings up the same point over and over.)Â Use â€œgroup memoryâ€ or the minutes of the meeting to remind Broken Record that the point is noted.
||As facilitator, get the group to agree not to evaluate any ideas for a period of time, and then use this agreement to correct violators.
||(Nonparticipant.)Â Try asking the personâ€™s opinion during the meeting or at a break.
||As Facilitator, walk up close (low-key intervention).Â Or ask for focus on a single topic.
||Move closer and closer, maintain eye contact.Â Ask person to be group recorder.
||Thank the attacker for observation; ask the group what it thinks.
||(Often says â€œIn other wordsâ€ or â€œwhat she really means.â€)Â Check this in public with original speaker.
||Ask the group to verify the information.
||Remind the group that all members have expertise; thatâ€™s the reason for meeting.
||Before the meeting, ask other members to get Busybody to stop.
||Be encouraging, but break eye contact.Â Get group members to talk to on another. Lessen your omnipotence by asking Teacherâ€™s Pet, â€œWhat do you think?â€
By using all these techniques, you will be running an efficient and productiveÂ meeting. Â And most important, you will also be seen as a leader with Influence Skills.Â Running a Meeting With Influence can be a most important way to become a Successful Leader.
This is a guest post byÂ Elaina Zuker. She blogs atÂ http://www.ezinfluence.com/ and is the president of Elaina Zuker Associates, now based in MontrÃ©al, QuÃ©bec. She has taught seminars to hundreds of employees and managers at major corporations such as AT&T, IBM, American Express and MCI International. She is the author of six books, on leadership, management and communication. Her best-selling book, “The Seven Secrets of Influence” (McGraw-Hill), the recent Main Selection for the Business Week Book Club, has been translated into four languages.
Ms. Zuker holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Management/Organizational Development and is the 2004 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from New York Polytechnic University.