Posts tagged 'meetings'

If you choose not to attend.

September 28, 2022

Meetings should have as few people as possible, but all the right people
Charles W. Scharf, American executive

We all have more meetings to attend than we prefer, especially if some of them don’t represent the best use of our time.

Even though meetings are vital to the execution of projects and initiatives, it’s important to be thoughtful about attending. One simple question works:

Is each meeting on your calendar the best use of your time this week?

If not, then explore whether you decline attending, send a replacement, or attend only the portion of the meeting for which you are a critical content provider.

There are four key elements in creating and maintaining the freedom to decline.

The person calling the meeting always has the final word. In a world with too many meetings, it’s tempting to simply not show up. But this is about being responsive and reliable. Letting people know that we prefer not to attend is about both standing up for ourselves and giving the meeting leader an opportunity to convince us to attend.

Set up permission not to attend ahead of time with your boss or team leaders who call the bulk of meetings which you attend. In the best of circumstances, this is a conversation your boss or project leader initiates. Granting permission not to attend isn’t because they don’t want you to at the meeting. Rather it’s a gift they provide because they realize everyone is managing a unique set of priorities, and the freedom to choose where you spend your time this week is best left up to you.

Only call meetings that are necessary to discuss things that matter. If every meeting to which you were invited advanced your important initiatives and projects, not attending wouldn’t be an option you would choose often.  

Only invite those who are necessary to make progress on each topic. Too often we err on the side of inviting too many people, fearful that someone will feel left out. Let your organization know that you are going to err on inviting only the minimum required, then make it clear they can invite themselves if they see it’s a meeting they don’t want to miss.

If you choose not to attend, you are responsible to:

  • Assure no harm comes from your absence
  • Provide your input and questions through a colleague
  • Find out what happens from a colleague
  • Accept work that the group assigns to you
  • Align with all decisions made in your absence

In other words, you give up all rights to slow the progress on any topic simply because you chose not to attend. You are still responsible for making things work.

Now, with this background, what meetings do you need to decline next week? And for those meetings you call, what can you do to make sure they are a good use of people’s time?


It has to be an awfully good meeting to beat having no meeting at all.
Boyd K. Packer, American evangelist


- Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter: How to Turn Meetings from Status Updates to Remarkable Conversations

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Hearing people out is a prerequisite for moving forward.

May 30, 2022

I'm curious about other people. That's the essence of my acting.
I'm interested in what it would be like to be you. 
Meryl Streep, American actress

Hello, Paul,

I’ve spent 10 hours in the last month observing leadership team meetings.  One scenario happened in each meeting---someone expressed a view or a concern and someone resisted it or countered it.  And what happened next was always the same, the person making the point expressed it again only with more energy and emotion. And this cycle of expression and resistance repeated until eventually they gave up and became passive in the meeting.

Recently I read an article that asked current and past baseball managers for the advice they would give a rookie manager.  
One comment that resonated with me came from the current Milwaukee Brewers manager, Craig Counsell:
I would just say doing your best to understand everybody’s perspective that you run across on the day. Like, What are they dealing with? What does the media think when they come into your office? What is [the General Manager] thinking when he comes into your office? I think understanding their world and their goals helps you be a little better at it.
It reminded me of a day I spent at the Smithsonian Institution talking with the woman in the ombuds role about conflict resolution. Eventually, she and I settled on what was most missing: listening—specifically to make sure people feel they have been heard. 
Hearing people out is a prerequisite for moving forward. That means no arguing or resisting or problem solving or reassuring, but rather taking it all in so they feel heard. Until you understand how they perceive the situation, you won’t get anywhere. 
This level of listening requires us to remind ourselves that we don’t know anyone else’s reality. It requires a shift from knowing to being interested and curious. It’s difficult to listen when you think you already know how things are or what they need.
It’s easier to listen fully when your intent is to learn about people:

  • What are they facing?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their goals?
  • What are they worried about?
  • How do they see the world?
  • What are they committed to?

This is something to keep in mind as we interact with family, friends, and colleagues. Even though we think we know what makes them tick, we don’t know what they are thinking in this moment, in this conversation. 

You don’t know what it’s like to be me.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Perhaps it’s time to slow down and see if we can get closer to understanding what is going on for them right now.
Stay curious,

Resistance is futile.    Star Trek


- Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter: How to Turn Meetings from Status Updates to Remarkable Conversations

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The skills that will set you apart from the crowd

March 21, 2022

This past spring I spoke to a group of university seniors and graduate students. They wanted to know what they need to be successful when they enter the world of work.

My first answer was the ability to listen because it’s at the heart of influence, creating relationships, dealing with complaints, and demonstrating empathy.

My second answer was process skills—the ability to participate in and manage group conversations. Individuals can improve their influence and impact by sharpening their process skills.

We work on specialized conversations—presentation skills, negotiating skills, sales approaches, conflict resolution. We haven’t been students of how to work with others or how to be great with people by paying attention to how we converse with each other. Nor have we worked on the process skills that are key to conducting conversations in group settings.

In workshops on individual and group effectiveness, I ask people to consider that after mastering their core discipline of accounting or engineering, their next area of focus should be conversation: speaking, listening, social skills, and meeting skills—all of which are at the heart of being effective in an organization.

Here are six reasons why honing your conversational process skills is a worthwhile investment of your time:

  1. You’ll set yourself apart. The ability to manage conversations so they are productive, inclusive, and focused on getting work done is an organizational skill that transcends expertise. Being really good at a core discipline (say, marketing, business development, or social media) is important, but being an expert only gets you so far. If you can add the ability to facilitate conversations to your repertoire of skills, you’ll add more value to your organization.
  2. You’ll gain stature. Your colleagues will respect your ability to make their time in meetings productive—even more so if you can manage the conversational processes with very little attention on your own views. You are not doing this to get noticed, but it never hurts to be known for having a critical skill set.
  3. You’ll create productive relationships. The entire process of determining what should be on the agenda and interacting with colleagues about the best way to have a successful meeting gives you insight into what matters to people. Relationships are built on a series of conversations where people can express themselves fully and feel heard. Learning about your colleagues through meaningful conversations will build a network that you can depend on outside of meetings as well.
  4. You’ll enhance your powers of observation and learn to stay out of the conversation. Managing a meeting requires careful attention to the dynamics in a room—for example, whether someone needs to be brought into the conversation or an action item needs to be assigned or the discussion has gone off track. Facilitating a meeting also requires learning to withhold your own ideas and questions and focus on the thoughts of others. Many of us need practice at interrupting less, listening more deeply, and resisting the urge to turn the conversation to our own views or experiences. These are important leadership skills in and out of meetings.
  5. You’ll become valuable beyond your own group. If you become known in the organization as someone who can manage conversations effectively, you’ll likely be asked to help with other meetings. You may not be interested in becoming a professional facilitator, but even leading one or two meetings a month for other parts of the organization will build your network and knowledge of other functions.
  6. You’ll contribute to your boss’s success and respect. Offering to design and lead the next meeting for your manager is a gift in several ways. Many managers simply don’t have the time to determine what needs to be on the agenda and how best to get the broad participation required for alignment. Being able to focus intently allows the manager to pick up on the nuances people express, verbally and nonverbally, and to listen for any organizational perspective or background the group needs.

Universities have heard the call from large organizations to train students to be able to work in teams. Unfortunately, the response has been to put students on teams, hoping that experience would make them effective working in groups. I’m not so sure it does. Teaching process skills would—especially if listening in an attentive fashion were included

Listening is a master skill for personal and professional greatness..
—Robin S. Sharma, Canadian author


- Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter: How to Turn Meetings from Status Updates to Remarkable Conversations

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Remember The Follow-Up: X by Y

February 17, 2020

Ever leave a meeting wondering what, if anything, will happen as a result? Ever been surprised when people come to a meeting and report that they did not complete the actions they agreed upon in the last meeting?

Of course, we all have. And we’ve experienced the same issues in other ways:

  • -Ever commit to do something and then, as the date gets closer, wish you could be let off the hook for delivery?
  • -Ever wish that you could call and check on something but worry about being seen as micromanaging?
  • -Ever assign a task to someone simply because they are the one team member you can rely upon when something must get done?

Giving and keeping your word is important, but in our hectic, overwhelmed, excuse-filled world, it’s often missing. That’s why if you establish a reputation of reliably fulfilling your commitments, you’ll stand out. People will love to have you as a colleague.

What does it mean to give and keep your word? People who are known for their reliability do the following:

  • -are specific in what they say they will do
  • -include a completion date
  • -call and renegotiate when required
  • -provide updates on progress if appropriate
  • -keep a list of everything they have promised
  • -don’t offer excuses for nonperformance

None of the following are commitments: I’ll look into it; sounds like a good idea; I’ll give it my best; let me check with my team; let me see what I can do.

These are expressions that well-intended people use when they agree with what is being asked of them. The intent is good, but execution is at risk because completion dates are missing. And only when a completion date is included do people become clear about their responsibility to take action.

Sometimes, life gets in the way…

People who keep their word occasionally find that completing a task is either not going to happen as planned or a shift in priority has occurred. When that happens, they call immediately and discuss the situation with the person to whom they committed. Together, they decide what is best:

  • -stick with the original date
  • -change the date
  • -revoke the commitment
  • -find an alternative way to get the task completed as originally determined

The point is that the exchange and delivery of commitments is dynamic because circumstances often change. As soon as the due date is in jeopardy, effective people talk and come up with a new commitment that makes sense to both parties. What’s important is that there are no surprises.

Keep a record of your promises

Often commitments are not kept because we lose track of what we have promised. Take a moment and write down everything that you have promised to your boss, team, colleagues, kids, partner, and friends. Include those actions where you didn’t actually promise, but someone expects or wants you to do it.

Not many people in life will ask you to do X by Y, so it’s up to you to hear every hint as a possible direct request and make the expectations clear for both parties.

The palest ink is better than the strongest memory.
—Chinese proverb

I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost

Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter

For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>

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The Hidden Costs of Not Ending Your Meetings on Time

February 10, 2020

One of the most common complaints about meetings is that they consistently run over and delay people getting to their next meeting or activity. That is an obvious cost, but the hidden costs are more impactful.

If you establish a pattern of not ending your meetings on time, you and the organization will pay a price. First of all, people expect that whoever calls a meeting will respect their time and talent by designing and leading that meeting effectively. They will leave frustrated when you do not, and your reputation as a competent manager will be diminished.

Second, if people begin to anticipate that a meeting will not end on time, they will pull back. They’ll stop asking questions for clarity. They’ll stop offering differing perspectives or approaches. They will begin to lessen their attention and engagement. Eventually they will simply disconnect and wait for the meeting to be over.

Third, people want to be engaged and aligned with the organization, but if they become frustrated with how meetings are prepared and led, they will pull back their comments, questions, and support.

4 Tips for consistently ending on time

Tip 1: Schedule fewer agenda items. Keep the number of items on the agenda as small as possible. There will be less pressure to rush through the agenda if you have fewer items, and participants will be able to focus on each conversation if there are not ten topics to divide their attention. A good guideline is two meaningful topics per hour. You must have enough time to discuss the topic, reach alignment, and agree on next steps. The criteria remain the same regardless of the meeting topic: Are you doing complete work on each topic? Does each conversation lead to clarity and alignment about what happens next?

Tip 2: Keep group size to eight or fewer. Who should be part of the conversation in order to accomplish the outcomes defined in the agenda? Whose presence is necessary for the topics to be discussed and handled? Who must be there to get the work done? Who, if they can’t attend, means you might as well reschedule? Five to eight is the best size for most working groups—small enough to sit in intimate physical proximity, easy to get everyone’s views considered, enough differing views and experience to ensure a robust discussion, and small enough to assure a candid and authentic conversation. One caveat: less is more.

Tip 3: Keep the conversation on track. The main reason for meetings running over time is that conversations are allowed to drift off track. There are four reasons conversations go off track: lack of clarity about the process to be followed in working through the conversation (process steps); people with a pattern of talking too long or too often and neglect to make sure their comments add value; problem solving when that’s not the purpose of the discussion; no one is willing to bring the group back on task once the conversation has strayed. Ideally this is the responsibility of the meeting leader, but any participant will be doing everyone a favor by pointing out that the focus has shifted.

Tip 4: Make ending on time one of the meeting outcomes. If you establish a new pattern of designing and leading well-run meetings that add value, move projects forward, and respect people’s time, you will also add another layer of credibility to your leadership of the group. You want people to look forward to being in your meeting, and they want your meeting to be one that enhances their workday.

Start on time, stay on track, end early.

“The best things arrive on time.”

—Dorothy Gilman, American writer

Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter

For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>

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