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3 Ways to Deal with Business Meeting Discord

Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 11:15
Business Meeting Discord

A recent post, “10 Ways Business Leaders Can Optimize Meeting Time,” cites a study by staffing firm Robert Half Management Resources that revealed many U.S. workers feel about a quarter of the time spent in meetings is wasted. This sentiment, of course, means meeting leaders must cope with some level of resistance and disengagement among participants during any given gathering.

Now, consider this angle to the issue, aptly put by leadership guru Ken Blanchard in one of his recent columns: “In a fast-paced work environment, communication challenges come up every day. It’s natural for conflict to arise and disagreement to occur, so leaders need the skills to successfully manage emotionally charged conversations and help resolve issues between team members.”

Discord among teammates, discontent in the wake of business decisions and disappointment with policy changes or new directions are among the “emotionally charged conversations” that may arise during meetings. And those matters are tough enough to handle when everyone attending a meeting is in the same room. Facial expressions, eye contact, and even a pat on the back can help meeting leaders clarify complex issues, articulate nuanced positions and demonstrate emotional support.

But when all or some teammates are participating by audio, web or video conference, the additional layer of separation makes these tasks more challenging. So, special attention must be paid to verbal techniques for managing these tough topics.

“Your ability to handle moments of conflict has a massive impact on your success,” writes Emotional Intelligence guru Travis Bradberry in a post he co-authored for Forbes with Joseph Grenny, bestselling writer of Crucial Conversations. “How you handle conflict determines the amount of trust, respect and connection you have with your colleagues.”

For her article for Harvard Business Review “How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees,” Contributing editor Amy Gallo interviewed several experts and developed a short list of verbal techniques for coping with conversations about discord, discontent and/or disappointment. Here’s a digest of her advice, mixed with pointers from Blanchard, Bradberry and Kenny:

1. Be Prepared

Meeting leaders anticipating difficult discussions should do their homework. Whatever the distress—discord, discontent or disappointment—some research and, perhaps, a couple of offline conversations are warranted.

Being able to explain the history and processes that brought a group to the current state of affairs is a powerful advantage. But be wary of burning a lot of time providing background. Rehearse what you plan to say, making your comments concise and focused.

2. Be Direct

“Speak up in a way that doesn’t alienate other people. Understand how to get at the essence of what’s important,” Blanchard counsels. How that’s done will depend on your research and preparation. But one approach to avoid, according to Bradberry, is “being brutally honest.”

The misconception among many people, Bradberry believes, is that the “only two options are brutality or harmony.” In fact, he elaborates, “People don’t get defensive because of the content—they get defensive because of the intent they perceive behind it. It isn’t the truth that hurts—it’s the malice used to deliver the truth.”

3. Be Focused on the Future

As a meeting leader, your obligation is to facilitate progress. It’s the best way to address the concerns participants may have about meetings wasting their time: Give them a way forward, a solution to challenges at hand. But don’t plow ahead too fast, cautions Blanchard: “This can be a challenge for leaders with a natural bias for action. Learn to resist the urge to move forward prematurely. In challenging conversations the real issues often don’t come to light at first.”

In the area of tough talk, there are some ways not to handle a conversation, too. Here are two big ones that Gallo shares in her piece:

  • Don’t sugarcoat bad news; you may be insulting your teammates’ intelligence.
  • Don’t allow open-ended debate; dwelling on what may not or will not change is a poor use of time.

And as learned in the post about optimizing meetings, respecting participants’ time is one key to success in any meeting—in person, online or otherwise.

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