Tag: meetings

Q&A with Dr. Liane Davey

Dr. Liane Davey is a psychologist, business strategist, author and speaker. The co-founder of 3COze, she works daily to take healthy teams to the next level of performance and to rehabilitate teams that have become unproductive and toxic.
She does this by combining her expertise in strategy with her deep insight into group dynamics – and because of this, she is sought out by some of North America’s leading financial services, high-tech and healthcare organizations.
If you like what she has to say below about meetings, networking and workplace relationships, please be sure to check out her two books: Leadership Solutions and You First.
Paul: As you know, a lot of my work centers around conversations in the workplace and meetings in particular. I love your take on the best way to decline a meeting invitation – can you share it with my readers?
Liane: When you receive a meeting invitation, it’s important to think about whether or not it’s a good use of your time to attend the meeting. Don’t just “accept” as a reflex.

First, consider whether the meeting is set up for success. Is the topic timely? Are the right people invited to ensure you can make the required decisions? If the meeting isn’t set up for success, suggest ways to make it more effective or recommend that it be canceled or postponed.
If the meeting seems like a good one, next you should ask yourself whether you’re the right person to attend. Are you the right person from your team? Does the issue need someone more senior? Is it an opportunity to delegate to someone more junior? Is there unique value you can add above and beyond the others who will be in attendance? If you’re not the right person to attend, it’s appropriate to decline and possibly suggest someone else in your stead.
Finally, even if it’s an important meeting and you can add value to the discussion, it might not be the most important thing for you to be doing at this particular time. Think hard about the opportunity cost of attending the meeting and make a call based on what’s most important for you to pay attention to. If you have something to contribute but can’t afford to attend, ask to contribute in advance or to attend for only parts of the meeting.

If you’ve decided at any one of these three points that you should decline the meeting, be polite and helpful. Regardless of which option is best for you, be deliberate and thoughtful about which meetings you attend and be forthcoming about your rationale for declining an invite.
Paul: Also in the workplace, you make a distinction between venting and gossip. In your opinion, what’s the difference between the two and how should both be handled?
Liane: Venting is when someone uses another person as an outlet for a buildup of negative emotions. They bluster away with a litany of issues and you have no room to get a word in edgewise. For the most part, venting is not aimed at anyone in particular and after a few minutes, the person feels better and carries on. Gossip is a more personal attack on an individual who isn’t there to defend himself. Gossip is insidious and quickly destroys trust in a workplace. If you’re on the receiving end of office gossip, there are a few things you can do. If you believe there is some truth to what the person is saying, you can channel the frustration into a forum where it can be addressed. For example, if your coworker is complaining that Sally was rude to him during the meeting and his ideas got short shrift, you can suggest that he ask to have the issue put back on the agenda. If you don’t believe there is merit to your coworker’s complaints, it’s important to say so. Where possible, take the third party out of the conversation and insert yourself instead. “Frank, I thought Sally was very polite, and she only asked to move along once we had spent 30 minutes on the topic. I don’t think you had enough data to support changing our approach. I’m happy to give you my thoughts on what it would take to reverse the decision.” Regardless of whether you think the gossiper has a legitimate point or not, the idea is to make it very uncomfortable for him to whisper about the issues rather than raise them in an appropriate forum. If every time your coworker gossips to you, you force her to have a grown up conversation, you’ll probably hear a lot less gossip!
Paul: What’s the most impactful way to help out a coworker who is stressed out?
Liane: First, although stress isn’t contagious in the traditional sense, it is common to pick up on the emotional states of others. Be careful when you’re helping a teammate who is stressed out not to take on their stress yourself. With that said, there are a few things you can do to be helpful. First, help reduce the stress that comes from isolation by listening and being empathetic. If you notice that their verbal or non-verbal behavior is concerning, just point it out. “I’ve heard a few big sighs coming from your direction. What’s up?” As you get the person talking, help them figure out the root cause of the problem and suggest some ways they might make things better. If the workload is too high, help them prioritize or solicit some help. If they aren’t sure how to accomplish a task, help break it down into more manageable steps. Even if you can’t help to reduce the stressors, you can probably help reduce the toll that stress is taking on your coworker. If you notice your coworker skipping lunch, grab her a bite to eat at her desk or encourage other healthy habits, like going for a quick walk or watching a funny video on the web. Don’t just ignore a coworker who’s stressed out. Take a moment to help them become more self-aware and to problem solve about how to get out from under the wave.
Paul: In Harvard Business Review, you’ve written about the two sides of networking – instrumental and psychological – with most people not understanding the importance of the latter. Can you expand on why this part of networking seems to be missing for most people?
Liane: Networks (just like mentors) can provide both instrumental (job- or goal-related) and psychosocial (emotional) support. Many people rely on their network for one, but not the other. If you’re the type of person who is great at getting job leads, competitive intelligence, or new business opportunities from your network, great! But are you also finding folks to talk to about the more personal aspects of succeeding at work? Networks can provide great support in helping you manage stress, think about work-life balance, and deal with difficult bosses or coworkers. These are very valuable contributions from a network and shouldn’t be neglected. On the other hand, many people do the opposite with their network: they over-index on the psychosocial support and forget to reach out when then need on-the-job help. Don’t feel sheepish about asking for assistance on a job hunt or in finding new clients. Your support network can be a great career-booster, too!
Paul: Can you tell us a bit more about speaking with impact and writing powerfully?
Liane: I’m really passionate about good communication. Unfortunately, it’s very rare these days. Too much communication is unidirectional and just blasted into the world with little thought about its intent or impact. If you’re sending a message, start by thinking about the impact you want to have. Obviously, think about the information you have to transmit, but don’t stop there. Once you’re clear what people need to know after reading your message, clarify what you want them to think, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do after reading. Then write your message with those outcomes in mind. If you want people to do a certain thing, have you infused your message with the right facts and emotions to spur action? If not, go back and revise the message until it creates the desired effect. Once you’ve got the content right, make sure your writing is clear and doesn’t get in the way of the message you’re trying to convey. Take out the fancy words and simplify your language. Clean up your grammar and make sure verb tenses all match (especially if you’re using bullet points). You’ll know that you’ve written a strong communication if the words don’t get in the way of what you want people to think, feel, and do!
Paul: Would you share what you are currently working on or other ideas that you have been exploring?
Liane: I’m spending considerable time and energy devoted to improving the use of conflict in the workplace. I’m really concerned that we’ve become conflict avoidant and we’re paying the price in reduced innovation, poor risk mitigation, and eroding trust. I’m trying to change people’s mindsets to understand the value of conflict and then to build the skills to have productive conflict. It’s such an important topic, but one many people are reluctant to talk about.

Sharing Information at the Office — Are You Doing It Right?

When it comes to sharing information with colleagues or employees, American psychologist, Carol Gilligan, puts it best: “I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.”
Truly, these real conversations can only happen in environments where an organization or company values openness, transparency, inclusion and alignment. It comes down to the fact that people – on every level – want to be included and they want to be informed.
From an organizational perspective, it is important to continually give people permission to “clear” – the chance to ask about anything. Without this freedom, they will be left listening to rumors or simply left in the dark. What’s worse, given a void in information, people will make something up to fill it. This can cause all sorts of havoc.
That said, consider these practices when it comes to sharing information. They can overcome cultural habits that discourage questions and complaints, or layers of management that obscure the view for most employees.

Ask your managers to put an agreement in place with their staff to encourage more questions. This is what I recommend as an agreement: If you are curious, wondering, anxious or concerned about anything, please ask. I promise to tell you the truth.
Share what you know. Don’t make people ask the perfect question to get access to all of the information you possess. Constantly think from the perspective: What else would they like to know but haven’t asked about?
Start meetings with a clear request for participation. Make it a standard practice to remind people that you would like them share their views, questions, and concerns on each topic. I often phrase it in this way: Sometimes, it might sound as if I don’t want questions, or we might be getting behind on our agenda, but please don’t let this stop you from asking for the clarity and understanding you need.
Build more time into your meetings. If people feel like the meeting is going to run late, they tend not to ask all of their questions. Reduce the number of topics on your agenda and add 15 minutes to ensure clarity and understanding. Slowing down in the short term will pay off in the long term as you create a culture where people realize that you do want to know what they think.
Consider those not present. Ask the people who are present if they can think of anyone who would like to know about what happened in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, ask for volunteers to communicate with people who couldn’t be at the meeting.
Add extra time on global calls. When you can’t see people physically or if English is their second language, allowing plenty of time for people to speak is vital. Double the amount of time you put into your agenda to ensure people will ask questions so they can reach understanding.
During times of change, share more information and be available for questions. In order to deal with change, people need clarity, not certainty. Most managers make the mistake of waiting for certainty before being in communication with their people – too late. Talk to your people before you know how it is all going to turn out. You can always tell them what you know right now, the process that is being followed, and when you will know more. That clarity will go a long way towards reducing the angst in the organization.
One thing to watch out for. Avoid long answers and lengthy explanations. Don’t add detail that isn’t necessary. This is about being available and then answering every question until your staff doesn’t have any more questions. And it’s always good to practice focused speaking—which means your speaking is clear, concise, and relevant.


Whose topic is it and who should lead the conversation?

Most organizations use one of two options for determining who will lead a meeting. It’s either the manager/supervisor of the group, or it’s an outside person hired to facilitate the meeting.
But there is a more powerful option available: Decide on a topic-by-topic basis.
The roles people play in a meeting can change from one agenda item to the next. The meeting roles outlined below show a significant distinction in the parts people play, whether they’re the owner of a topic, the leader, or a participant. The entire meeting doesn’t need to have a single leader; this role can shift depending on who needs to be free to participate more fully in the conversation.
The Owner of a conversation topic is the person who requested time for it on the agenda. This person will both set the stage for discussing the topic and wrap up the discussion at the end. It is preferable for the owner of the conversation to be free to listen to each contribution, add clarity when needed, and consider the most powerful way to close the topic.
The Leader directs the discussion, with a focus on both keeping the conversation on track and ensuring broad participation.
Meeting Roles
The Provost Council at a Land Grant University I’ve worked with developed a definition of meeting roles that breaks down something like this:
Typically, this is the person who asked to put a topic on the agenda. The Owner sets up this conversation for the group, which might include:

Framing the topic in a longer time frame or providing the context
Setting outcomes for the conversation in this meeting
Explaining is wanted and needed from meeting participants
Establishing time and process, if the discussion process is complex

With straightforward and short-duration discussions, the Owner can also be the person who manages/leads the group conversation.
Whether leading or not, the Owner is also responsible for looking for the value that occurs during the conversation and providing closure at the end of it.
On complex or longer conversations, it’s useful to have someone who can manage the group conversation without adding content. Responsibilities include working with the Owner to design the best way to introduce and conduct the conversation.
This person is also responsible for making sure that the process for working through the conversation is clear and then keeping the conversation on track. The Leader manages the levels of conversation so everyone feels heard and included.
The Leader either provides a charting of the conversation or asks someone else to do so and asks someone to keep track of the conversation so pertinent points can be captured in the meeting notes to be sent out to participants within twenty-four hours.
Meeting Participants
In addition to participating in the conversation, Participants look for ways to help the Owner and the Leader to both accomplish the work on each topic and ensure that everyone has a good experience of being in the meeting.
Participants with less content to provide on a topic have an obligation to pay more attention to process and provide guidance on where the conversation is and where it might go next.
At times, you should lead your own meetings. No problem—I’m just arguing hard for not making it an automatic decision. Varying these roles is a wonderful way to build the organization’s capacity for effective meetings by giving lots of people a chance to lead—one conversation at a time rather than handle an entire meeting.

Meetings Matter Q&A with Elise Keith

While I have definite views and ideas on how to improve conversations and meetings, I also know that there are many other views and other thoughtful folks looking at the same issue of improving how we work together in a group setting.
Because of this, I’ve decided to start a new series for the blog, which will highlight a variety of experts (some I already know, some I don’t) and center around the topic of meetings. My hope is to revolutionize the idea of group conversation, one perspective and one interview at a time.
I’m delighted to begin this new Q&A series by speaking with Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings, a complete online tool that helps organizations pursue their goals by making meetings more productive, more efficient, and more rewarding.
Here is what Elise had to say about what makes a great meeting, Lucid’s core customer base and why one-on-one meetings are in the spotlight right now.
Q: I love the word “lucid.” Why did you choose it for your company’s name?
A: It’s our goal to provide software that makes it easy for people to organize and run worthwhile meetings as a regular habit. Many people (but not all) understand what they should do, but when it comes time to actually schedule a meeting with their team, they’re too busy or too overwhelmed by all the advice or too afraid to try something new.
We seek to provide a clear way for everyone to get the basics right and achieve a demonstrable, documented result. Complete, well-organized meetings with the push of a button. The word “lucid” is meant to convey this clear and pragmatic ideal. A Lucid meeting should make sense: with a stated goal, useful agenda, and written results.
We’ve also had fun competing with all the “lucid dreaming” search engine results, and tried to enjoy Lucid absinthe cocktails once at a team meeting. Sadly not recommended.
Q: When it comes to meetings, what do you think are the most important aspects for leaders to embrace?
A: We believe leaders need to understand that:

Meeting skills are a core competency for all collaborative work.
Meeting proficiency creates a strong competitive advantage in knowledge work.
Meeting skills can and must be trained.
Meeting design should be a part of all process design.

The increasing information deluge and the rate of business change means that teams have to meet frequently to keep up; individual actors just can’t do it all. This makes effective meetings a crucial business activity to manage—it’s just not something that’s nice to have anymore.
None of this makes excellent social media fodder, though, and we are first and foremost selling software. We get much better marketing results with small, specific how-to material. For example, our most popular blog post explains how to write a meeting invitation email.
So, while we relish this higher view of the conversation, our impact comes through embedding best practices in software, making it possible for people to start holding better meetings without having to think about it too hard.
Q: How have you learned to deal with the comment, “What you write about meetings is obvious.”?
A: I hear this most often from trained facilitators, but not so much from customers. Our writing tends to reach a less sophisticated audience and always ties in the unique challenges of an online meeting experience.
For our audience, we frankly don’t need to be particularly novel. This is actually one of the inspirations for the business: best meeting practices haven’t changed dramatically in decades (if ever?). And yet, most people run terrible meetings. We concluded that they lack either training, time, or the will to change, and that software could help.
Q: What would you ask people to track and measure each week to make a difference in what they observe regarding meetings?
In the software, we track all kinds of hard metrics for the data geeks. Some of this can help: use of time, accurate planning, active participation… it all provides clues.
That said, my absolute favorite method is a combination of the agile ROTI and a plus/delta survey asked at the end of a meeting. We actually include this in the eBook and in the software. The combination provides a safe way for people to quickly express enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the meeting and offer comments.
I know some facilitators like to track more details about what’s going on in the meeting, but for everyday working meetings, I think too much tracking is a burdensome distraction.
Q: Tell me about one-on-one meetings.
A: One-on-one meetings are hot business at the moment, especially in the startup community. We’re developing templates to support these meetings.
We’re seeing a lot of anxiety in the late GenX and millennial crowd as they enter managerial roles and realize that:

They have to do one-on-ones.
If they do them wrong they’ll become the next set of “bad bosses.”
They have no idea how to succeed.

Kissmetrics recently put on a webinar about one-on-ones that had over a thousand registrants. A thousand registrants for a webinar about meetings!
Q: After years of working with people in the workplace who reported how much difference the ideas made in their relationship with their children, I wrote a book taking some of the same principles in the meetings book and applying them to family life (Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids). It’s made me curious about what other meeting experts have found. Tell me about raising children and improving family conversation based on what you know about meetings.
A: This is an interesting question, and not one that comes up much in the software world.
Between us, my husband and I have five children ranging from age 31 to age 2 (almost 3). We actually run a weekly family meeting with the three still at home (I love reading the notes my 10-year-old takes!) and find that when we miss these meetings, we experience the same issues with frazzled connection and lost alignment that you see in working teams. We also host a bi-weekly family dinner with all the local extended family. I think our work on meetings helped us better understand and better teach our children about the importance of strong connections.
This one is really a good candidate for a long chat over tea!
Elise Keith is one of the co-founders of Lucid Meetings.  Before starting Lucid, she worked to deliver collaboration products for international standards organizations and the legal e-discovery industry, where the importance of a well-run meeting (and the consequences of a failed meeting) were made abundantly clear.
She now divides her time between work on Lucid Meetings, parenting her 3 young children, and consulting with teams on how to inspire the effective meeting habit in their organizations.