Every one-to-one management discussion you have is either a seized opportunity or a lost opportunity. These discussions in organisations are crucial. They are where information is shared, agendas are formed, decisions are made, and relationships are built. They are where your leadership identity is crafted.
Within any management discussion, there are two things happening at the same time, and the one very much influences the other. On the one hand, there is the situation you are exploring, facts, ideas and opinions, and on the other, there is a meeting of personalities. If there is tension between the personalities or the interpersonal styles, then details linked to the situation are more likely to be obstacles. If the interpersonal tension is low, however, if there is a sense of harmony about the exchange; if there is a sense of mutual respect and the communication flows, then the details are far more likely to be negotiable.
Doug Parkin, programme director at Advance HE offers ten practical tips to make meetings have more impact.
1. Do your homework
Think about what you know about the situation; what do you know about the person (or what can you find out from others)? What is important to you and what do you want to achieve? Also think about what really matters to the other person. Finally, what are you prepared to give, trade or concede to achieve agreement?
If you have a limited opportunity to do your homework, then discovering answers to some of these questions, openly and honestly, may be either a key part of the early stages of the meeting itself or the focus of the meeting overall.
2. Set an agenda
Whilst not a formal meeting with agenda items and minutes, it should nevertheless be a meeting with a purpose. What that is and how much investment the two parties have in it is well-worth surfacing. And there can, of course, be significant differences in status and investment. Simply asking ‘what would you like to get from this meeting?’ can unlock so much, but sometimes we feel awkward about doing so. Another technique is to follow-up the initial exchanges in the meeting with a short summary that sets out the areas that are important to cover and to check the other person’s agreement.
3. Use big fat open questions
A common problem in one-to-one discussions is that the questions become too specific too soon. This may feel business-like and efficient but what are you missing? Getting a full understanding of the issue, the facts and the feelings that surround it, and developing a sense of what really matters to the person you are meeting requires open questions. This is fundamentally about creating space for the other person to talk and, crucially, for you to listen. For open questions, here are three of the best:
- Tell me about...?
- Talk me through...?
- Describe the situation as you see it...?
4. Follow the platinum rule
Most of us know the golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But how about the platinum rule, Do unto others as they would like to be done unto?
This relates to the opening paragraphs above and considering interpersonal tension and personality styles. So that you can match or move towards the personality style preference of the other person, there are three things you can consider:
- Match their pace,
- Fashion information in terms of how much detail and how much excitement,
- Speak their language.
5. Don’t forget to listen
It has been suggested that most managers spend over fifty per cent of their time in meetings, and in these meetings they spend about eighty-five per cent of the time talking. This makes very little sense but is an unfortunate reality that many of us have experienced. To listen requires a still mind and a genuine desire to understand. It also requires some space and some silence. If you want to find out important information to make a quality decision, if you want to develop rapport and build a relationship, then you need to do some listening.
‘Listen’ is an anagram of ‘silent’ and that neat piece of symmetry really tells you everything."
6. Challenge objections
You won’t be surprised to learn that not everyone agrees with you or sees the world in the same way. And because this suggests a level of potential conflict, we often either play down challenges or try to ride past them, particularly when working with more senior colleagues. This is a mistake if you wish to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. A direct challenge can be easy to spot, but sometimes the challenge may take the form of a throw-away remark or simply a change of expression. The trick is to say what you notice and play it back to the other person with a question: “I notice you seemed unsure about my reference to consultants, what has been your experience of working with them?”
7. Don’t get stuck, get interested
During meetings it helps our confidence and self-esteem if we can move seamlessly into the next question. It is almost a social pressure carried into the work environment. And as a result, our listening time, such as it is, is often spent coming up with our next neat question rather than really attending to the other person. To prevent this, be curious and trust yourself. Really listen to every detail of both what the other person has to say and also how they say it. If you do, almost certainly the questions will flow. But if they don’t, just reflect back to them your interest and ask a simple “Tell me more”. So, don’t worry about getting stuck, focus instead on being interested.
8. Play both a short and a long game
Simply speaking, the short game is often to compete and the long game is to collaborate. And this reflects a difference in mindset between short-term problem solving and long-term relationship building. Enlightened leaders tend to invest equally in both. A hallmark of an emotionally intelligent leader is that they are investing in relationships all the time: every comment, every connection, every conversation. So, in your earnest pursuit of today’s targets and your dedicated focus on the current challenge, remember that you are also investing in relationships for tomorrow. This is another important part of your leadership identity.
9. The magic of the summary
The “save key” on the human computer, is a great way of thinking about the humble summary. Humble, because it can seem a little mundane to take time to repeat and clarify the key areas covered during the discussion, any differences noted and the points agreed. But if you don’t, the conversation is incomplete. Magically, a summary will both create clarity and check for shared understanding. It provides an opportunity for the other person to say if they have interpreted the conversation in a slightly different way, and to consider if they have something further important to add. Platform summaries can be used to clarify and confirm sections of the conversation as you move along, and a longer final summary should be used to draw everything together at the conclusion.
10. Brand me
Edmond Locard, the French criminologist (1877-1966), gave us the important forensic principle that “Every contact leaves a trace”. This is part of the political dimension of organisational life. Whether you like it or not, people talk about you. They have ideas and associations based on a multitude of contact points, their own and those reported by others. So, part of your personal brand within the organisation will consist of what people have to say about you after the meeting has taken place. Did you, for example, come across as kind, considerate, on top of things and someone they could trust? Some people develop their brand rather cynically, exploiting every contact point for what it can do for them and valuing this above the work itself, but we each need to be conscious of the trail we are leaving.
The upside and downside of leadership is that everything you do sends a message.”
Advance HE regularly runs development programmes, taking a practical approach to learning new skills and behaviours that are necessary to lead departments successfully. Use the following link to learn more about the Leading Departments programme and how you can book on to the next session.