ANOTHER MEETING? If you’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 you’re at it. As a meeting leader, you have a great opportunity to use your influence skills to your advantage and achieve the results you want.

Picture showing a business woman

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting through a meeting that’s pointless- and seems endless. Not only can unproductive meetings waste everyone’s time (consuming up to 50 percent of the average manager’s work week), but, considering the salaries of the participants, they can get pretty expensive, too. 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?  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 year’s campaign, for example).

Ask members beforehand what items they think should be included in the meeting’s agenda. This will encourage them to feel more involved and committed, and they will be more likely to work collaboratively. Then, before you finalize the agenda, ask yourself some key questions: What is the current situation? What result is needed? What decisions could come out of this meeting? If you can agree upon goals before 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

It’s important to create a climate in which all opinions are valid and valued. 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. A variation on this problem is the silent treatment – a person vents hostility by withholding important information from others in the group.

A good way to create a receptive climate is to pool all members present, especially the quiet ones, to find out what’s on their minds. You might try something like “Does everyone think what Ann has proposed is a feasible idea? Can anyone think of anything that might go wrong in terms of production, quality control, durability, sales? Has anyone had any experience with something like this that has worked well? Any experience with something not working well?”  By encouraging all opinions, especially dissenting ones, you’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. When members dominate a meeting by being aggressive or violating other people’s rights, they’re probably suffering from insecurity and a need for attention. The best way to handle them is by demonstrating control and assertiveness-don’t ignore them or give them negative attention; instead, confront the problem directly. Show that you’re listening by such nonverbal messages as making direct eye contact and turning your body towards the speaker. If the person feels confident that you’re listening, he or she won’t have to resort to such antics to get attention.

Once you get the meeting rolling, bounce ideas off different people. For example: “George is making an interesting suggestion here about the processing center’s time log.  Ellen, how does that fit with your experience when they tried that in the western region?”

Set a climate of precise, clear, open communication. If a member makes a vague or fuzzy statement, ask questions until you’re clear about what the speaker means. Fuzzy speaking is often an indicator of fuzzy thinking; by forcing people to be more specific, you are helping them get their thoughts straight. 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. Too often, attempts at identifying problems deteriorate into long-winded gripe session about unrelated issues. Also, when groups start discussing problems, it’s all too easy to attribute cause or blame to other departments or other people. 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. Here is where your gentle but positive influence can guide the tone and focus of the meeting.

To keep track of what’s going on, keep a flip chart, a notebook, or a chalkboard near you to record information as it’s given. Ask for a volunteer to be responsible for the meeting record so that you won’t be distracted from your job as a leader.

Closure

Make sure everyone leaves the meeting with the same idea of what is to be done-and how it is to be done. Be precise and clear when giving assignments, and ask people to be specific when they volunteer some service. Use an easygoing tone of voice so you do not come off as a cross-examiner. You simply want to put everyone on the same wavelength. For example, if someone says, “I’ll do a report,” ask, “What will the report include? How long will it be, what will it accomplish, and what form will it be in?” Ask questions until you’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, “What is your understanding of what’s expected of you?” You may feel that it is impolite or unfair to challenge people in this way. On the contrary, you are doing them a service by helping them clarify what they mean and what they’re promising to deliver. This is what truly influential leaders do.

When people understand exactly what you want, they feel much more comfortable about producing it. They don’t waste time or put off a project because they’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. (If someone is taking minutes, this will help too.) 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

PROBLEM SOLUTION
Latecomer Start meetings on time-don’t wait for stragglers.
Early Leaver Get a commitment from all members at the beginning of the meeting to stay until the end.
Broken Record (Brings up the same point over and over.) Use “group memory” or the minutes of the meeting to remind Broken Record that the point is noted.
Doubting Thomas 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.
Dropout (Nonparticipant.) Try asking the person’s opinion during the meeting or at a break.
Whisperer As Facilitator, walk up close (low-key intervention). Or ask for focus on a single topic.
Loudmouth Move closer and closer, maintain eye contact. Ask person to be group recorder.
Attacker Thank the attacker for observation; ask the group what it thinks.
Interpreter (Often says “In other words” or “what she really means.”)  Check this in public with original speaker.
Gossip Ask the group to verify the information.
Know-It-All Remind the group that all members have expertise; that’s the reason for meeting.
Busybody Before the meeting, ask other members to get Busybody to stop.
Teacher’s Pet Be encouraging, but break eye contact. Get group members to talk to on another. Lessen your omnipotence by asking Teacher’s Pet, “What do you think?”

By using all these techniques, you will be running an efficient and productive meeting.  And most important, you will also be seen as a leader with Influence Skills. Running a Meeting With Influence can be a most important way to become a Successful Leader.

This is a guest post by Elaina Zuker. She blogs at http://www.ezinfluence.com/ and is the president of Elaina Zuker Associates, now based in Montreal, Quebec. 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.

Run Your Meetings with Influence

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