Sorry About the Meetings….What Should we Change?

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I came across an article the other day, talking about something that is, I think, fairly well known, about the way women often struggle with meetings, are perceived as bossy when they speak up and often use apologetic language. I am sure it is not just women that encounter difficulties participating in meetings in crushingly corporate environments. Meetings are a fact of life and teaching people ways to survive and perhaps thrive in such situations (such as those discussed in the article) does sound like a very decent plan . If this was me I would probably love a lifeline like the Get Heard in Meetings Course – workshops in how to do things differently, how to learn poise, speak louder, get yourself listened to. I am a sucker for a good workshop, and this does look fun!

I read this not long after another article about the Google App “Just Not Sorry” that helps women to stop saying sorry via e-mail. And I watched again a brilliant sketch by Amy Schumer “I’m sorry – A Conference Goes Awry” I have seen this several times – it’s also about women saying sorry. This made me cringe and laugh out loud at the same time.

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It is a thing. Women do often say sorry a lot. And it’s not just that, there are many many things about the way we communicate that are vastly different from the way men do. Women fitting into predominantly male environments is not a new topic of discussion. I know that it’s not just about communication and not just meetings, there is far more to these kinds of workplace difficulties where men and women in particular clash. That is a bigger conversation…..

But I confess to being the proud owner and purveyor of “soft skills”, I am a people person and I like it when people get on. I am a facilitator and my job is very much about adapting the environment to include the people. Not the other way around.

So I can’t help thinking that when looking at the bigger picture, this is all slightly back to front. Like most people I have been to all sorts of meetings in my life. Some I have felt comfortable in, some less so and for all sorts of different reasons. True, I have never been employed in a male dominated highly corporate environment, but I have worked and networked with plenty of men. I have facilitated workshops on many occasions where I am the only woman. I have also facilitated meetings. So I do know the scenario, it is not a myth.  And in many situations where you have clashes of communication, culture and style things can be tricky to say the least, and soul destroying at worst if this is your norm.

But it doesn’t make sense that women (or anyone for that matter) should have to learn to behave differently in order to be a part of a meeting. Presumably the people attending the meetings are skilled in their fields, expert and knowledgeable. Is it reasonable to expect them to learn something extra just to be able to share that with people?

I would say no.

Meetings themselves are very often at the heart of the way businesses are run. They are also the bug bear of many. They can be a necessity and a time waster, an efficient way of delivering and discussing information, or completely fruitless. A way of informing and feeding back or a lot of hot air. They are that double edged sword that many people loathe, but we all have to embrace on some level.

What about focusing on running meetings better? Managing meetings so they make space to include the people that need to be included, women and men alike. Rather than sticking to a format that excludes people, necessitating them to learn how to cope, wouldn’t it be better to revisit the way the meeting functions? Using some well founded techniques to encourage people to feel like they want to go to meetings, that they will get a lot out of them and will be able to put a lot in to them is surely a good idea. Much has been written about ways to run meetings better. A good chair or a facilitator, a focus on engagement and a clear agenda are a good start. Teaching people to listen is also a valuable skill that we could all work harder on, and something that goes far beyond meetings. Focusing on the people in the meeting is, I think fairly fundamental – after all, the people are what make the meeting.

Knowing there is a place to learn skills to enable you to get on better in meetings is great. Tools that are out there to help women “manage” their communication (whatever the format) are clearly important. But encouraging people to run better meetings in the first place would be a much larger win, have far wider implications and a much deeper impact. After all, it’s better for everyone when we are all less sorry!

People Centred Meetings

A few weeks ago I wrote about bad meetings. The types of meetings you really don’t want to go to. The types of meetings that make people cringe and roll their eyes and wonder why they bother. But what about good meetings? Have you ever been to a good meeting?

Hands up…….there must be a few of you…..

Some companies, organisations and places of work have got it sussed. They know exactly how to conduct meetings that make people want to go to them (or at least not groan when one pops up in their diary). They know how to make them productive and how to make the best use of the resources in that meeting. By which I mean the people. Just as importantly, they know what they want to happen after the meeting has finished. They have thought about how the meeting might end and the follow up afterwards.

There is a lot of advice out there on what to do and what not to do about meetings. There are innovators of all kinds who have tried to revolutionalise meetings as we know them. You hear about people meeting standing up, or meetings that happen while you walk , meetings that are short and fast but happen every day , and of meetings that are long and involved and look more like a workshop. There are meetings that use lots of technology, and meetings that happen where no one is even in the same room (this example is another rather over parodied meeting but you get the picture!).

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However your meeting looks, one of the of the most important elements of any meeting is the participation and engagement of the people present. It is about inviting the right people in the first place and ensuring that their time and energy is well used. If the structure and process of the meeting doesn’t allow people to take part, and contribute effectively then it isn’t going to be worth doing. While not everyone is as disengaged as this man we have all been to meetings where we have spent time doodling and thinking about our lunch rather than joining in!

The thing that can really ensure your meetings work are keeping the people as the primary focus, rather than the information you have to get through or the decisions you have to make. A bold statement perhaps. But if you have reached a decision based on only half of your participants really thinking hard about the discussion, then the chances are you may have to go back and revisit it at a later date. Getting people together for a meeting can be hard, so you want to make sure you make the most out of your opportunity. People holding a meeting often plan the agenda, organise a room, check people’s diaries and order tea and coffee. But they don’t always spend time focusing on how they are going to get everyone involved.

Depending on the different positions and personalities in the room, and what type of meeting you are having, the level of engagement and participation will vary. You will have slow talkers and fast talkers, loud people and quiet people, people that love to join in and people that hate it. There will be some people that disagree a lot and some people that agree with everything. The mix and how you deal with it are important. The dynamics of the group and how you manage it can make or break a good meeting.

So, no pressure then!

There are all sorts of tools and techniques for effectively managing a meeting and many different styles of doing so. Tools are really the materials and processes that you use to get everyone working (the activities), while techniques are the methods you employ to make them work (the behaviour that you use). And people “running” a meeting will have different roles; whether you see yourself as facilitating, chairing, managing, running, hosting, leading….there are subtle differences between all of these things, but you are essentially responsible for the meeting itself, and the people in it.

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So in order to keep everyone on track, it might help to think about:

Additional resources, tools and activities that you could use to make the meeting a cut above the normal sit down and talk around a board room table. You don’t all have to be doing elaborate ice breaking activities, or using the height of technology, but sometimes the addition of something other than just talking or looking at handouts is needed. It might be that adding more varied visual materials, writing comments on cards, asking people to get up and write on a flip chart paper, or splitting into side groups is enough. You don’t have to turn your board meeting into a workshop, but there are ideas that can be taken from workshops to keep your meeting attendees actively listening and thinking about the meeting. Sometimes though, a little bit of fun or some quirky activity can also be useful!

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The way you are talking to your participants. If it looks as if someone doesn’t understand, can you paraphrase or ask a clarifying question? If someone is talking too much can you find a way to curtail them, or bring someone else in? If people are prone to giving one word answers, are there certain things that you can add or ask to draw some of the information out?

The way you are listening and watching the people in the meeting. There may be people who are itching to say something, or others who wish they could become invisible. But by keeping your eye on the way people are interacting you will get more value out of the people who are there.

Preparation and letting people know what you want from the meeting. People will always feel more comfortable when they know what is expected of them. This is not just about making sure they have the agenda beforehand or space in their calendar but about what they are expected to contribute and do in the actual meeting. Quite often meetings are so frequent and so un-engaging that we have got into the habit of just turning up for them and not really thinking about what we might want to add.

So, when you plan your next meeting, it might not need to be incredibly clever, radical or innovative. But a shift in focus to fostering an environment where people feel able to ask questions, talk freely and have productive interactions may be a good investment. Good meetings take work, and creating the time and space to make them better will in the long run provide better outcomes. A focus on people is hard when you have deadlines to meet, information to get through and tough decisions to make. But the people and their thoughts, opinions, ideas and questions are what make it a meeting. It is the skills and knowledge from the group of people in the room that are needed, they are what it’s really all about.

What are your top tips for making meetings better?

 

 

Learning from the Comedy Value of Bad Meetings

I am the kind of person that gets inspiration from all over the place. I get flashes of ideas and I seem to get them from everywhere; eating food, walking to the corner shop, talking to people, listening to music. I’d like to say that ideas come to me on my morning jog, but they don’t. I don’t embrace the world of jogging. I do love swimming but I rather like the meditative counting of lengths and the slight brain switch off that it provides. It wouldn’t be the ideal time for ideas to arrive anyway, not without some kind of waterproof notebook. Anyway, I digress……

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My latest inspiration has come from watching TV. Which is interesting since I do so little of it (watch TV I mean). Have you ever seen W1A? I have to say, it’s brilliant. But it’s also painful to watch. It’s painful because it takes the extremes of reality, situations that we are all familiar with and pokes fun of them. In case you haven’t seen this slice of (fictional) satirical hilarity, it’s set in the offices of the management team in the BBC. Very funny.

And the meetings they have are what I want to have a little chat about………Continue reading