Archive for the ‘Effective Meetings’ Category
Posted January 26th, 2014 by The Steve Alexander Group
We thought we had been completely clear on our dinner order. Then everything quickly tumbled out of control, with tempers flaring and a rush headlong into the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm I teach about in my coaching and teambuilding training. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought to myself, as others around the table seemed to grasp for help.
We started out for our last dinner with the team I was training in Florida. I’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, so lots of history and warm camaraderie around the big round table. We asked, given it was an unusually nice French restaurant in seemingly the middle-of-nowhere, if anyone wanted or had ever tasted escargot. With mixed replies, some willing to try, some salivating and others with a nonverbal cue to keep it far from their plate, we asked the delightful French waiter – a short, squat, grey-haired 70-plus year-old gentleman who spoke his English with a great French accent – right out of central casting, if we might have enough escargot to share among nine of us. He wrote it down and disappeared into the kitchen.
The wine was selected, conversation deepened, time passed and out came the owner of the restaurant with nine separate servings of a half-dozen escargot in each dish!
Eyes widened around the table (no one of the decliners lurched for the restroom, however you could see it in their faces) and the nonverbal responses entered into a din of dialogue that quickly turned to finger-pointing!
“Who ordered all this escargot?” “I didn’t want any.” “We can’t eat all this!” The noise level rapidly shot up. And, of course, the level of ‘listening’ went down right along with the comprehension. After a brief point, everyone turned to me and begged, “Steve, you’re our facilitator, please fix this!”
I turned to the owner and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding. We wanted enough escargot to share among nine of us, not separate servings of nine each.” To which he replied, “No, you did not.”
Our journey begins.
I suggested, due to the miscommunication, how about he leave us with four or five of the servings, to which our delightful French waiter replied something along the lines of “You are wrong! You absolutely ordered nine servings.” (My command of French is slight; my study and reading of human body language allows me to conclude there are certain universal ‘words’ that are clear no matter the spoken word!)
He pointed to his pad and with great emotion told us we CLEARLY ordered nine servings of escargot.
At least the point of this post should be clear by now. How quickly communication can be confused, how miscommunication can arise. And how quickly we jump to that ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if I am right, you must be wrong, and vice versa).
Of course, once the dialogue (shouting, pleading, etc.) settled down, and the Frenchman came over to me and confided how difficult it was to work for the owner, who was often quick to allow his temper to rise, and how much trouble he was in, I assured him we would do all possible to help.
After time passed and temperatures cooled, and the main courses were delivered and deemed with perfection, I called over the waiter and announced that we’d had the best service of any of our experiences while gathered in this little corner of the world, and felt a part of our Frenchman’s family. Our group gave him a loud, heartfelt round of applause, to which everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was happening. We thanked him profusely for his patience with our language, and left him with a warmth and gratitude that was as important to us as it was to him.
I brought him close and whispered to him that I would talk to the owner and explain as well.
When the owner came by at the end of the meal to ask how it was, we told him, out of everywhere we’d been (the irony being we had other dinner plans and only selected his because the place we were going didn’t seem suitable), this was truly the best, and what made it so was our delightful, personable, engaging and dedicated waiter, who, in spite of the miscommunication, OUR miscommunication, made our evening the most memorable of all.
Ms. Communication actually turned into a great hostess who gave each of us – team members, waiter and owner – a glimpse into our own ability to unwittingly make communication blunders. It became a positive experience in how, instead of seeking blame, fault or cause, we may instead focus on the desired outcomes and the purpose of our communication. We even perceived the broader context of why and how we were gathered together and the potential to learn from one another and our circumstances.
When we move to cause and blame, we too often lose sight of the bigger picture. And everyone goes away a loser. With a less-than-positive experience and a ‘having-missed-something’ outcome.
Our French waiter became our teacher. We, part of the classroom that now extended from the retreat center to our evening dinner. Each of us was in some way affected, appreciative and better for it.
What’s happened in your life recently where Ms. Communication has visited? Where are the opportunities, in both big and small ways, to take a breath, self-reflect and find your way, with others, to better understanding, patience, insight and growth?
We all have those ‘escargot’ moments in our lives. Keep searching for how you can better approach the moment so the outcome leaves everyone satisfied, even enriched for having been a part of the experience.
P.S. If you’re curious about how we actually resolved the escargot quandary, let us know!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted June 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I was recently asked to attend and facilitate a small planning meeting. Before we got started, one of the attendees asked the question, “Why am I here?”I could tell it was not about the meaning of life nor was it rhetorical! It actually startled everyone, and I realized immediately not everyone was on the same page as the person who ‘called’ the meeting (in our business that’s commonly referred to as the ‘convener’).
Meetings are one of the biggest issues I hear folks in my world talk about, question and criticize. In fact, the word ‘meeting’ and the phrase ‘waste of time’ are often either synonymous or at least heard in the same sentence. Rarely do people seek my services because they have such great meetings and just want to make them even better. Usually, as part of the executive coaching, team-building process and overall improvement program, they want to know how to make their meetings work.
The question was one of the most direct ways I’d heard of asking that series of questions we should all ask when we’re planning to attend or, if it can’t be done prior, actually attending a meeting. Why am I here? What value do I add? What value will this meeting add to my work, what I need to produce for the company, how I support my peers, satisfy my customers, enhance my skills, etc.? Is this a meeting I need to be in face-to-face? Can the results be achieved in some other manner that’s less costly and time-consuming and more effective? What’s expected as a result of my attendance? What will I do differently, more of/less of, as a result of this meeting? You ever ask yourself these questions? Out loud? In front of your peers? Try it.
It’s the convener’s job (remember, that’s the person who calls the meeting) to be crystal clear about the meeting purpose: what key outcome(s) need to be achieved that warrant(s) those in attendance being there to achieve that purpose. The second job of the convener is to select the right participants. Who is, and why are they, necessary to achieve that purpose? This isn’t determined by title or even the job they hold in the organization. It’s more important to consider what ‘value add’ each participant will have to achieving that meeting purpose. Another key question for the convener is what exactly do we need to accomplish in the meeting, and how should the meeting be structured to accomplish that, in order to fulfill the meeting purpose? Finally, ask what materials and information participants need to have in advance and/or at the meeting to wisely use their time and produce the outcome. (This is guided by the proviso that a meeting should never be used to ‘read’ information to participants!)
If you’re a convener, don’t call your next meeting without answering these questions. If you’re a meeting participant, don’t be afraid to startle your colleagues and the convener with this critical question, “Why am I here?” If you want to be part of effective, high-energy, high-impact meetings, apply this simple question and encourage a business culture that supports it. Your company, co-workers, customers and you deserve it!
Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).
I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.
I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?
Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.
Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
When you’re responsible for a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a group, in-person or by phone, teleconference, etc., try this effective technique for driving solid, measurable results from the time and effort you’ll spend with your meeting participant(s). The process can be used in a brainstorm session with others who are involved in designing and making the meeting successful, or you can do it on your own. The key element is to do it in writing until you’re crisp, clear and focused on the three outcomes from the following question.
“Thinking about the participants (again, this can be a meeting with one or more), what do I want him/her/them to think, feel and do as a result of this meeting?” Sounds simple enough, right? Now try it quickly with an upcoming meeting you’ve generated or one you’re planning.
First, what do I want them to think: Depending on your meeting, you should come up with “I” statements as to what the person(s) should be thinking about you, your fellow meeting planners, your proposal, project, etc. “I like this idea!” “I believe this will provide us what we need.” “I want to hear more.” “I like the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this proposal.” The more “thoughts” you generate that connect with the feelings you want to elicit and the action you want to lead to, the better.
Second, what do I want them to feel: People are often motivated by the feelings generated during an experience. Feelings are typically one-word statements like, “confidence,” “encouraged,” “excited,” “invested,” “respected,” “trust,” etc. You get the idea. Any time you follow a feeling by the word “that,” “like,” “as,” or similar words, you know you have a thought, not a feeling. Put those responses back in the first category.
Finally, what do I want them to do: Based on the thoughts and feelings you’ve created by your presentation, discussion, interaction, etc., you should end up with a crisp, concise, thoughtful and strategic “do” from this session. Homing in on this will help you build the discipline to use your and your audience’s time wisely, respectfully and productively. The length, format, venue, number of participants, etc. for the meeting don’t matter.
Next time you’re planning a meeting, even if it’s a stand-up five minutes, use this brief exercise wisely, complete it in advance and write it down. You’ll quickly find your meetings generating thoughtful results and engaging your participants respectfully and productively.
Posted April 11th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Typically, when asked to make a presentation, the first question you ask yourself is, “What am I going to say?” That’s the first mistake a presenter makes. If you want an effective presentation, one that keeps your audience talking long after you’ve gone, you have to apply “The Platinum Rule®” (more on that in a later post!) to your speaking and presentation opportunities.
The first key question you should ask is, “What does my audience want to hear?” Focusing on why folks would sit in their seats for the time you have with them is the start to the most powerful, effective and valuable presentations. As a speaker, you need to learn about your audience… what motivates them, why they are in the room, and why they would give their time to you. You need to make the effort to get to know them, their backgrounds, interests and needs; what matters to them, and why and how you can deliver it. Make a contract to use their time wisely and productively.
If you don’t have the time to do the right research in advance to get to know your audience and design your presentation about them and their needs (I’d suggest you not give presentations unless you can invest the time to do the right research about your audience’s needs, hopes, expectations, etc.), in an impromptu setting, you can always start with a few opening questions you can ask the entire audience that give you a sense of who they are, what’s on their minds, what matters to them and why they’re sitting in front of you. Simple questions like, “How many of you have been with the company (or whatever the appropriate venue is) less/more than a year (etc.)?” How many of you have heard something about this topic before?” “With what one key challenge do you struggle that you came here today to get help?” You get the picture. (This should be based on your particular audience, topic, etc.)
The most important thing to remember: It’s all about them! Any effective presentation thinks about, and anticipates first, what matters to the audience, not the presenter. Remember, most folks only remember about 10% of what they’ve heard after only a couple days. Identify and connect with what they care about, and you can drive up that percentage for a memorable, useful and engaging audience-based presentation.
Next: The three key outcomes to identify for any effective meeting!
Posted January 21st, 2010 by Steve Alexander
All You Ever Wanted to Know About Boards – Whether serving on one, serving one or considering either, BoardSource is the definitive site for information. If you’re one of our clients, we use them all the time to help with best practices, training info, books and related tools. They’re customer-service driven and we love the range of information they make available to use to help you and your organization.
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
Communication can be a challenge whenever it involves more than one person (sometimes, we can even confuse ourselves all alone with our own internal self-talk!). A quick tip from the world of therapy can be applied in our day-to-day communications with profound impact. Try it and let us know how it works for you. More to come in future posts.
Make “I” statements – This doesn’t mean looking people in the eye, though that will help also! Start your communications with the word “I” rather than “you.” When you use “you,” it variably puts your listener on the defensive and can be viewed as an attempt to relieve you of your own responsibility in the communication. Conversation usually deteriorates rapidly.
For example, instead of “You really bother me when you don’t show up on time,” try “I get upset when people arrive late.” (Of course, you also want to be aware that you’re responsible for your own feelings and actions, so this statement means you have to look at your own responsibility for your feelings about how you react to what others do; what you feel is an option, not a mandate.) Even better is “I appreciate it when you show up on time,” which represents your thoughts about an issue. It also allows you to make an aspirational statement about what you expect from another.
Next time you’re in dialogue with someone, remember the role you play in talking about yourself, your feelings and your thoughts, and describe both what you want and need from the other person. Your next job is to listen. That’s why it’s called dialogue.
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
When was the last time you found yourself saying, “Gosh, I just can’t wait to get to work today so I can attend all my meetings!” Many view meetings as a waste of time and effort, a drain on really productive work, with no real, tangible return. Yet, for most of us, meetings are one of the most commonly used tools in the workplace. One tip for ensuring meetings are effective and produce results is the use of an agenda. And one way to be certain there is one, is to ask in advance, “When will the agenda for the meeting be available?”
If you attend a meeting and there’s no printed agenda, you can always ask for an informal one before the meeting gets started. “Before we begin the meeting, I’d just like to ask if we can review what we’re going to cover in the time we have, what the priority issues are, and what we need to accomplish?” Setting the tone for a productive experience begins with a clear statement of the purpose of the meeting, then an agenda, even if informal, to guide the discussion. This will keep attendees focused and will allow all participants, whether the meeting convener or not, to pull everyone back on topic with the suggestion that, when off-topic discussion occurs (and it invariably does!), “Perhaps we can put than on the agenda for a next meeting, since it seems we’re not on the agenda topic we agreed to at the beginning of the meeting.”
Once there’s an agenda in place, everyone can play a role in keeping the group focused. Try it next time and let us know how it works for you.
Posted December 13th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
One of the most interesting aspects of my work is watching how individuals and organizations make decisions. Often, there’s no overt process of how decisions are made. That leads to confusion about roles and responsibilities, questions about transparency and authority and outcomes that are not necessarily strategic nor focused on a common mission, vision and goals.
Before any meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a major gathering of executives or board of directors, one issue that should be settled is how decisions will be made. Does the final authority rest with one individual? Will there be a voting process? Majority? Certain overrides? Will a consensus-based framework be used?
Deciding how to decide on any issue before the discussion process begins will help those involved understand their role, their influence on both dialogue and outcomes and institute a transparent, strategic approach that will withstand second-guessing and ineffective results.
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