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effectively

Helping People to Contribute Effectively During Meetings

There are many reasons for non-participation during meetings including lack of preparation, shyness, being overawed by rank or someone’s specialist knowledge, being put off by another’s aggressiveness or dominant behaviour or just pure laziness.

To draw out the silent type and protect them from intimidation it might be helpful to ask questions that tap their expertise, praise their good ideas, openly note their contributions, call on those that are shy or junior first.

Of course you may also have to limit the long winded. This can be done by setting the ground rules at the start including how long any one person can speak for at a time. You should also request that remarks be confined to the topic of discussion. If someone still insists on an opera length speech you may have to tactfully but firmly insist that you move on.

It is equally important to remain focused on the agenda and what needs to be achieved. To do this you will want to summarise progress and remind everyone of the meeting’s objectives. You will also have to interrupt if the discussion gets out of hand, off topic, too heated or rowdy. Act quickly if a serious disagreement arrises.

Sometimes a participant may have something worthy to contribute but may not be the best public speaker. At such times it is the chair’s job to rescue that person by helpfully summating what they think he/she was trying to say.

As the meeting chair you should work to encourage diverse points of view, especially if it is a problem solving or brainstorming session. Well run meetings enable a group of people to achieve more than the sum of their individual efforts, through the creation of synergy and the combination of their collective expertise.

As the chair you should encourage all opinions and perspectives to be explored but be prepared to hightlight bias and oversights. Some participants will need to broaden their viewpoints while others must be encouraged to be more realistic.

To generate ideas you may want to try brainstorming, asking open questions (ones that cannot be simply answered by yes or no), encourage partial ideas, reserve your own ideas until the end, clarify and paraphrase for others (make sure you ask them to confirm that you have it right), and the use of verbal and non-verbal reinforcement.

How to Communicate Effectively to an Audience

When you speak to a crowd, communicating effectively means that your delivery is positive and confident so that your message comes across effectively. Use the tips in the following list to convey your points:

      -Speak up so others can easily hear you, especially in group situations.

 

      -Make your message as concise as possible; wordiness is not needed or wanted.

 

      -Use language in the best way possible to make your points.

 

      -Talk with your hands and use them to emphasize your key points.

 

      -Be direct and honest with people as a consistent practice.

 

      -Provide steady eye contact with your listeners to engage their attention when you talk.

 

      -Maintain an alert body posture when you speak to put life behind your message.

 

      -Pause to gather your thoughts so you avoid extraneous sounds, such as “um” that clutter your message.

 

      -Focus on getting solutions when you talk about problems.

 

    -Be sincere: People respond best to those who are genuine and respectful in their delivery.

Ways to handle disagreements effectively

#1: Make sure there really IS a disagreement

Have you ever witnessed a “violent agreement”? It can actually be funny, as long as other people, rather than you, are involved. For example:

      A says, on Monday, “The new release won’t be available for at least two days.”

 

      B says, “That’s ridiculous! We won’t have it until Thursday!”

 

    There’s no disagreement here, right? Most likely, B was expecting to hear a specific day, rather than an interval of days. In other words, B might not have been listening carefully. In this case, A could say, “Wait a minute, we’re saying the same thing. Thursday is more than two days from Monday.”

A variation of the violent agreement is the “violent non-disagreement.” For example:

      A says, “Babe Ruth played for the Yankees.”

 

      B says, “Baloney; he played for the Red Sox.”

 

    Here, B’s mistake is thinking that playing for the Yankees and playing for the Red Sox are mutually exclusive. However, as most people know, Babe Ruth actually played for both teams.

Other false conflicts could involve time (different time zones), distances (miles vs. kilometers), or release levels (different/additional functions, depending on the release).

I could cite other examples, but you get the point. Matters that appear to conflict might not conflict when you look more closely. Listen carefully to the other person and make sure there really is a difference.

#2: Separate yourself from your position

In his classic work The Psychology of Computer Programming, Gerald Weinberg describes the concept of “egoless programming.” Under this concept, a team of technical programmers, including the author of a program, reviews that program, checking for errors. The less defensive the programmer feels about the code, the more productive the review process will be. In other words, the process goes more smoothly if the programmer separates himself or herself from the program and doesn’t view discovered errors as a personal attack.

In the same way, actors, when interviewed about a role they play, generally refer to their own character in the third person. When talking about his character, Benjamin Martin in The Patriot, for example [SPOILERS AHEAD], Mel Gibson would more likely say, “Gabriel’s death had a big impact on Benjamin” rather than “Gabriel’s death had a big impact on me.” Similarly, he would more likely say, “Benjamin Martin is a man who’s trying to escape his past,” rather than “I am a man trying to escape my past.”

Try to adopt this view of disagreements. If we involve ourselves personally with our positions, we will have a harder time being objective about them. That lack of objectivity can prolong a disagreement needlessly. Try to view your position not as “your” position, but merely “a” position. In the same way, if you have an issue with someone else’s position, make clear that your concern is with the issue, not with the person, if that’s the case.

#3: Maintain professionalism

We’ve all heard the old saying about “disagreeing without being disagreeable” and that “honey attracts flies better than vinegar.” I don’t know why I would want to attract flies, but that’s a different matter. In any event, treating people with respect — even those with whom you disagree — can earn you respect in return and gives your position more credibility.

#4: Listen

The violent agreement involving the three-day delay could have been avoided had person B been listening more carefully. Listen to people completely, if you can, before responding. If you have to interrupt, for example, because the other person is being long-winded, try to summarize your understanding first. People sometimes express themselves differently than you expect. If you fail to listen, you might find yourself responding not to the other person’s actual position, but only to what you thought the other person’s position was.

#5: Recognize and avoid “straw man” arguments

This point carries over from the previous one. It’s easy to argue against a position that no one has. Attacking a position that isn’t really the one a person holds is called a “straw man” argument because, like a straw man, it’s easily knocked down.

If you fail to listen carefully, you may find yourself wasting time reacting to such a position rather than to someone’s actual position. It’s bad enough to attack a straw man by accident; it’s ethically questionable if you do it deliberately. Similarly, make sure others really do understand your own position.

#6: Agree to disagree

Sometimes, no matter how much discussion occurs, you’re unable to agree on one particular point. In some cases, that single disagreement prevents further discussion. However, other times, you might be able to switch to other topics. If so, it’s best to “agree to disagree” on the point of contention and move on to the other areas. Maybe later you can return to the disagreement and work through it. But try to make progress in spite of the issues about this one thing.

#7: Watch what you say

Once spoken, words can never be taken back. There’s no “untalk” feature corresponding to an e-mail “unsend.” Similarly, when a stone enters a pond, it sends out ripples that go only outward. As the saying goes, “A harsh word stirs up anger.”

Your mother’s advice to count to three (mine told me to count to 10, in fact) before answering holds just as true now as when you were small. In particular, and in view of the earlier advice to separate person from issue, be careful about overusing the words “you” or “your” or similar terms. Doing so blurs the line between person and issue and can make the other person feel defensive or accused.

A good technique is to “play Columbo,” a reference to the old television series about a detective with that name. Peter Falk, who played the role, came across as an idiot who always needed someone to explain things to him. In the same way, if you have a disagreement or concern, consider expressing it via a question rather than via a statement. Does the other person’s position lead to a problem? Ask questions so that in answering them, the other person realizes the issue as well. Just don’t overdo this technique or it will sound contrived and insincere.

#8: Use a lower voice

Just as “A harsh word stirs up anger,” so too does “A soft answer [turn] away wrath.” If you lower your voice when speaking, you accomplish three things. First, you reduce any tension that might exist. Second, you force the other person to listen to you. Third, because of its unexpected nature, lowering your voice can gain you a psychological advantage in the discussion.

#9: Try to see the other person’s point of view

In a previous blog entry, I talked about the importance of seeing the other person’s point of view when explaining a technical concept. That same principle applies with respect to disagreements. The more you understand someone’s position, the more you may understand their concerns — and the more likely you can resolve the disagreement. In fact, before responding with your own position, consider paraphrasing the other person’s position and concerns first. Doing so sends a powerful message. Even more important, emphasize first those matters upon which you and the other person agree.

#10: When the disagreement is resolved, put it behind you

We all know the saying about “water under the bridge.” Once a matter is settled, don’t keep a record of wrongs. Let it go. Dwelling on past differences seldom leads to productive results and can lead to bitterness and bad feelings. Look back only to learn from what happened, so that you can avoid similar mistakes (if any) in the future.