The Unseen Meeting
Years ago I used to prepare for important meetings by taking a few moments to write down the key points I wanted to convey. I’d try to anticipate what people’s responses would be and prepare for those as well. In a sense, I was trying to do as much as I could to ‘script’ the conversation. I did this whether I was planning for a ‘one on one’ or team meeting that I felt was particularly important, or potentially emotional. Preparing like this made me feel clearer and reduced the prospect of me being surprised. Being unprepared made me feel vulnerable.
The problem was that often the conversation or meeting would take an unusual turn. When that happened I was so locked into my agenda, that I was not effective at handling things extemporaneously. I was clumsy and stiff.
There was nothing wrong with preparing my agendas, or with being clear about what I wanted to achieve at meetings; but I completely ignored the deeper, more important part of the meeting; the part of the meeting that was not cognitive; but affective.
You see there are things going on at meetings…silent, under the radar things, that effect us whether we are conscious of them or not. Think back to a meeting that did not go well. What was it that made you feel that way?
- let the meeting drift and we off-topic too much
- was so concerned with sticking to the agenda that he cut off some important discussion without resolution.
- had an agenda and was clearly pushing it at us
- wasn’t really listening to us
- doesn’t follow through, so no one puts too much ‘skin’ into these meetings
- seemed to be frustrated with us when he spoke
- although stating that she wanted a dialogue and conversation on the topic, did most of the talking
- is condescending
- is unorganized.
The list is truly endless.
Whether we are conscious of these assessments, or not; they are there. We feel them even if we don’t verbalize them.
Today, I’ve learned to prepare for both parts of the meeting; but with much more emphasis on the silent dynamics.
When I list the outcomes that I would like to achieve at the meeting, I include things like:
- I want the person or team to develop trust in me and/or the team itself.
- I want to be open to what others have to say and not allow my personal agenda to
- close off possibilities.
- I want to be a good listener.
- I don’t want to be judgmental.
Beyond listing my desired outcomes, I spend a few moments preparing myself.
For example, if I have negative judgments about the person with whom I am going to meet, let’s say I feel they are lazy, self-centered, unappreciative, or incompetent; then I have to rid myself of the negativity, frustration, and anger that accompany that judgment. If I don’t, no matter how much I try to disguise my negativity, the other party, or the team, feels it… either consciously or unconsciously.
There are many wonderful practices to help clear oneself of the emotions tied to negative judgments.
If I want to engender trust or be open to others, I prepare by spending a few moments letting go of all my thoughts and plans, and do a practice to open my heart. I reconnect with my life’s purpose, my beliefs, my values, and my commitments. I feel the goodness in my own core and in so doing feel the goodness of others.
Preparing for a meeting by creating an agenda using my mind to identify the content that needs to be explored; AND preparing an affective agenda by using my heart to see beyond the words…
…has made me a more effective leader.