One of the biggest time wasters in organisations is meetings. So much of them are simply collective procrastination with people pretending that stuff is actually getting done.
When it isn’t.
Who are we kidding here?
I often lay down a challenge for my coaching clients to slash their meeting times by half over the next three months (and to STOP the back to back meeting hell that means you’re always late, never ‘present’ and often on the back foot).
Here’s how you can do this too:
Firstly, ask: ‘How important is this meeting to achieving my personal and organisational goals?’ If it isn’t then find a way to say ‘no’ to the meeting without offending. The ‘without offending’ bit is key. Here’s how to nail this:
- Offer to attend part of the meeting. ‘I’m on a deadline with project x but I can join you for half an hour between 10 and 10.30.’
- Schedule a phone call instead – ‘I can’t make the meeting but I’d love to catch up with you afterwards/before to answer any questions you may have/follow up.’
- Ask for an agenda and then offer to attend the parts of the meeting where you can offer or give most value.
- Ask for the meeting to be pushed back to a later date ‘to enable us to have more data on xyz.’
Remember, that every time you say ‘yes’ to a meeting you are in effect saying ‘no’ to something else – possibly something more important?
It saddens me that so many people with really valuable and useful things to say don’t get heard. And yet their colleagues speak up and speak out with no problem at all – sometimes eloquently and succinctly, at other times…. well you know the rest!
It saddens me because when I first became a senior leader, I struggled to get my voice heard too. I had that ‘not good enough’ feeling way too often. Plus I was brought up to believe that it is ‘rude to interrupt’ (is it? Always?) and that made it really hard to find a way in to the conversation.
Here are 5 possible reasons your voice is not being heard – and what to do about it:
1. Problem: You’re not speaking in meetings! So many talented people tell me they don’t want to speak up ‘for fear of looking stupid’ or something similar. Solution: Find a way to say something – just one thing to start with. How about: ‘This is new ground for me, so I’d like to understand this a bit more’; or ‘I’ll be able to give a more well-thought out response when I’ve done xyz’ or ‘I’d love to know a bit more about that’ and so on. Once you’ve opened your mouth once, it’s easier to do it another time.
2. Problem: You’re waffling on – many of us waffle when we are nervous – but it’s hard for others to listen so they switch off and our valuable input is lost. Being concise and succinct is something we can all learn. Solution: Practise breathing in and out slowly. I find it helps to say one sentence and then pause, take a sip of water and then continue. Rinse and repeat.
3. Problem: Other people are not ‘letting you in’. Solution: Interrupt with elegance: ‘I’d like to come in here’ or ‘there’s something really important to add here’.
4. Body language. Problem: Shrinking in your seat shows that you think you are not important and people will treat you accordingly (remember, we teach people how to treat us). Solution: Stand or sit tall, project your voice to the back of the room and make your point succinctly.
5. Problem: You’re running a no-longer-useful script or story in your head that you need to change – or your ‘Impostor’ is getting in the way. Solution: Take a look at my short video on the Impostor syndrome.
Sorry if that sounds rude but one of the mistakes we sometimes make when going into a conversation is to think we should have all the answers – slick, smart, clever answers.
Because, as a leader or manager that’s what you’re paid to do, right?
The best managers I know have mastered the art of asking great questions (and listening REALLY well) in order to get to the best answers.
And let me be clear. This is NOT a set of questions that you can learn by rote and pull out randomly. Oh no.
Now, there are some great questions that can serve many purposes because it’s always good to have a starting point. But we can do so much more than that if we want to get to mastery.
My wonderful coach mentor recently described a really great question as ‘one you would only ever use once’.
Because it only means something to that particular person. You’re using their words as part of your question.
That is really powerful.
It means really listening to the other person’s words rather than paraphrasing, interpreting, assuming, ‘leading’ or avoiding – because we are then seeing the world from what Chris Argyris describes as our ‘ladder of inference’; our own reality, our own map of the world.
I remember my early coach-training days – struggling to think of my next question and missing swathes of information, nuances, patterns in the conversation. Because I was so focused on my own performance at the expense of really listening. And I know today that when I have a busy mind, or I’m not fully focused, or I’m rushing, trying too hard, anxious, tired…. I’m probably not asking the right questions.
That old cliché about having two ears and one mouth is so true!
How to get better? Practice (like most things). Even a gap of five seconds before responding can make a huge difference – you can then reply thoughtfully because you’ve taken time to hear and digest what the other person has said.
I’ve been reminded of a phrase this week for a variety of reasons and as a result of numerous conversations. There’s definitely been a theme emerging!
The phrase is this: ‘You teach others how to treat you’.
It’s a bit of a variation on the theme of ‘treat others as you would like to be treated yourself’:
Here’s what I mean:
We all know that our best learning takes place when we are ‘outside our comfort zone’ – but not so far out that we want to run for the hills. I know my deepest and most long lasting growth has come when I’ve had to confront something I’ve been avoiding or take on a challenge that felt new and scary.
I also know that for me and for many of my clients it’s easy to stay under the safety blanket of busy-ness’. And whilst we say ‘I’d love to be less busy’ or ‘I’d love to have more time for myself/my family’ we just keep on doing ‘stuff’ that we’ve always done and not getting round to the other ‘stuff’
So why do we say we want one thing and then do everything we can to sabotage ourselves?
How easy it is to forget the basics!
Over the last month, I’ve sent you four articles on how to change your team culture – sharing the very practical steps that you need to focus on and in what order (no theoretical meanderings that don’t work in the real world!).
As luck would have it, I’ve been working with a team recently who helped me understand one of the much more fundamental ‘blocks’ to changing or building culture.
In this particular case, the team had been brought together following a restructure and dived head-long into a massive piece of work thus ‘cobbling things together’ (their words) as they went along.
Over the last three weeks I’ve been sharing with you a step by step process to help you change your team culture. (if you can’t find the articles contact email@example.com)
In last week’s article, I talked about the importance of focusing on no more than three critical behaviours to change – if you try to change everything at once, you’ll end up changing nothing.
A while back, I worked with a senior Finance Team. One of the things the new leader wanted was a ‘more open’ culture. He’d been saying this for a while and everybody nodded their heads in agreement – but nothing changed.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve shared with you the three steps you need to follow if you want to change the culture in your team. Last week we looked at the importance of respecting and recognising your team’s history before you start changing things.
This week, I want to help you get clarity about what you want to change and why.