February 2010 | www.susansilvers.com

Successful living requires a balance of courage and compassion, just as it demands we balance the time we devote to achievement with the time we invest in our relationships. Courage & Compassion is a free monthly newsletter about success in life and business.

Meetings are cited as the number one frustration and time waster in organizations of all kinds. To have a productive (gets the job done), efficient (makes good use of time) meeting you must be aware of and manage both the people (interaction) and task (structure) aspects of the meeting.

The people aspect has to do with how the attendees interact with one another and the facilitator/team leader as the work gets done. The task aspect has to do with how the work itself is organized – clear meeting outcomes, steps to follow to achieve them, meeting tools to use to prompt and organize participant input, timeframes and time management. Far too many of us have walked out of a meeting thinking, “So what?” “What did spending the last hour of my life in that meeting accomplish?” We may have even had passionate discussion, but in the end, there was nothing to show for it; no outcomes, no action items, no decisions made.

Issues on the people side include: interrupting one another, dominating, not participating/giving ideas and input, destructive comments, and sidebar conversations/distracting undercurrent.

Issues on the task side include: no clear meeting outcomes or deliverables – simply an agenda, no timeframes, no time management, lack of knowledge of process tools to prompt or support the work of the group, and input, ideas, questions and concerns that are lost/not captured or addressed.

Lack of input or participation often results from a bad habit of allowing or inviting critique of an idea before the appropriate time. In most meetings, no sooner does an idea come out of someone’s mouth then someone grabs it, throws it on the floor, knocks the wind out of it and jumps up and down on it. There is pride of ownership behind our ideas. If every time I offer up a thought, someone slaps me, figuratively speaking, it won’t take me long to conclude, “Life is too short for this!”

When attempting to capture ideas and input from a group during a meeting, there are three steps to follow:

  1. Give ideas – “Safe time”
  2. Clarify ideas – Do I understand what the person said/meant?
  3. Evaluate ideas:
    1. Use the idea as is
    2. Modify it
    3. Discard it

During step one, everyone gives his or her ideas. Criticism of ideas is forbidden at this point. All ideas are allowed to “live and breath and take up space on flip chart paper.” (Most people process information visually and benefit from being able to see ideas on paper.) During step two, each participant looks the ideas over to make sure that they understand the ideas that have been given. (Clarifying comments made by the idea giver in response to participant questions are recorded on flip chart paper next to the original idea.) Third, the participants have the chance to evaluate the ideas. Shall we use a certain idea as given, modify it, or simply set it aside/discard it?

Making this one small change in the way you conduct your meetings may dramatically increase the amount of input that participants volunteer.

I have just finished a short, simple read, titled, The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon. George, a man drowning in his own negativity, is forced to take a bus to work during a two-week period that his car is in a shop. During his tenure on the bus, George learns what Gordon calls “Ten Rules for the Ride of Your Life.” There is nothing deep or profound about the material (“nothing new under the sun”), but it is a good reminder of principles that often drift to the back of our minds when we are slugging it out in the trenches day after day. Two of my favorite principles were numbers five and six. “Don’t waste time on those people that don’t get on your bus.” (We invite people to get on our bus by sharing our vision with them and asking them to apply their skills to help make it happen. We should give people a chance to “get on,” but if they choose not to, we ought not waste further time on them.) And, “Beware of energy vampires (people who drain your energy through negativity) and don’t let them on your bus.”

Resist the temptation to make an argument about “winning” or “being the most right.” For you to “win” or “be the most right,” the other party must “lose” or “be wrong.” This seldom leads to a positive outcome. Instead, focus first on hearing and understanding the other person’s perspective. This will put you in a better position to be heard and understood yourself. Remember that you and your “adversary” are usually on the same team – the marriage team (a life partnership), the family team, the company team or the organizational team. Focusing on your common purpose will often put the disagreement into proper perspective. The common purpose in parenting may be to raise independent and responsible contributors to society. When you hold your disagreement up against your common purpose, the best course of action will often become clear and/or you will realize that there are multiple ways to achieve your common purpose. Use your energy to search for a course of action that both parties can support.

Over-commitment leads to under-connectedness. If you are too busy to spend consistent, meaningful time with those you love, you may either neglect to build strong, supportive relationships or lose the connectedness you once had. It is more difficult to rebuild a damaged connection than it is to nourish and maintain the one you have. There is a brief window of time during which you have an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with your children. Don’t let it pass you by. Our society reveres busyness as if it were an indicator of an individual’s worth. Don’t allow society’s demands to lead you to a place of heartache and regret.

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