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3 Ways Courtesy Makes Meetings More Productive

Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 10:15
Courtesy Makes Meetings More Productive

Google the term “networking etiquette” and you will receive pages of links to articles elaborating the ways a little bit of courtesy will carry you a long way in business. Makes sense, because when networking your typical goal is to have someone else recognize your value as rapidly as possible. You’re hoping that person, in turn, takes action that benefits you—whether that action is offering you a new opportunity or just passing your contact information along to someone else who can help you.

In essence, you’re using courtesy as leverage to make your networking interaction as efficient and productive as possible.

If polite repartee works so well for us during networking sessions, why don’t we apply the same principles more often to other types of business meetings? Why, for example, do we feel the best way to handle a weekly update call is to have the session leader plow through agenda items as quickly as possible with as little banter as possible?

We tell ourselves this bulldozer-like handling of meeting content respects the participants’ time. But while this rationale may make us feel better, it’s not making meetings any more productive. According to statistics cited in our recent post “10 Ways Business Leaders Can Optimize Meeting Time” most of us still feel a quarter of all time spent in meetings is wasted.

There’s irony here: Courtesy is a form of respect. So, maybe when meeting leaders forego the niceties of conversation in the name of efficiency, participants feel disrespected.

“We love being around genuinely polite people. (Not fake polite—sincere polite.),” ghostwriter and speaker Jeff Haden wrote in a recent column for LinkedIn. “They make us feel comfortable. They make us feel respected and valuable. We would love to be more like them. And we love doing business with them.”

In his post, Haden identified 10 ways “remarkably polite people are more successful.” Here are three ways his principles can apply to leading effective meetings:

1. Address participants by their preferred names

If you met someone at a networking event who introduced herself as “Jane Schmidt,” would you immediately address her as “Janey” or “Schmitty?” Of course not. It’s polite to wait for permission to do so. And even with permission, you may wait a while to be so casual. Why? Because in networking you want to be sure the other person takes you seriously from the outset.

Taking this same approach in an everyday business meeting can generate the same effect—instant respect and engagement. Establishing this sort of rapport can foster efficient discussion.

2. Treat personal knowledge with professional discretion

A business meeting in which you know nothing about the lives of the participants beyond the conference room is rare. Typically, you have some knowledge of, at least, the projects others are handling. You may even know something about the successes or frustrations some attendees are experiencing on the job. And sometimes, you know a few things about the joys or trials of people’s personal lives. But if you started a meeting by inquiring about a co-worker’s son’s struggles in the classroom, you would risk alienating your colleague and making the rest of the attendees uncomfortable.

The first few minutes of the session could be filled with squirming and uncomfortable pauses. By contrast, if you know someone at the table or on the call has lost a parent, then offering public condolences at the start can create a sense of fellowship for the whole group. Sharing your personal knowledge in this way can set a tone of open, honest—and clear—communication.

3. Set the stage for other participants to engage

In his column, Haden calls this courtesy “social jujitsu,” the ability to talk to others in a way that empowers them to talk about their own ideas, issues and insights. “Just ask the right questions. Stay open-ended, and allow room for description and introspection. Ask how or why or who,” Haden advised. Make participants feel that you believe they are fascinating, which gives them permission to believe themselves fascinating—an “authorization we all enjoy” wrote Haden. These good feelings not only add energy to a meeting, they can accelerate and elevate discussion, too.

Haden’s most important point about “remarkably polite” people is they are consistent and persistent. “They never stop being polite,” he asserted, a cornerstone of their success that you can build into your next meeting.  Networking etiquette shouldn’t apply just to outside acquaintances;  your co-workers and friends are your strongest network and should be treated the same way.

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