Meeting Effectiveness – Engaging the Derailer and Cultivating Solutions!

The ability to tactically engage colleagues, whether they are supporters or detractors, in business meetings today is critical for increasing productivity and profitability outside the meeting and on the front line.

Business leaders who posses the tactical ability to engage others, sway energies away from combative posturing and constructively engage the otherwise content derailer toward forward momentum will find meetings as bastions of creativity and profitability!

Human nature, however, is prone to work against positive engagement in a meeting when someone challenges what another is presenting. Typically, at the precise moment someone challenges another’s position, each side digs in and either defends what was just attacked or challenges the other party. The energy then escalates in a negative direction, as emotions take over and logic goes out the window.

To cultivate positive engagement from all parties in a meeting the next time this occurs, consider:

  1. Get Out Of The Box – At the precise moment the other person challenges your position, calmly step back, out of the space you were standing at the moment of the interruption (if you are seated while presenting, you can accomplish this by simply adjusting your sitting position, leaning back calmly). By stepping out of the figurative “box” you were in while presenting, you will maintain control of the room even though the other party may be talking.

Instead of defending yourself, representing your position or engaging in a personality grudge match, you can gesture politely toward the space you were in and move into the second phase of this solution-cultivating engagement.

  1. Demand An Alternative Times Three – Once the other party has concluded his or her interruption or challenge, and you have backed out of the presentation space, you can hold yourself accountable to constructively engaging the other party. Your choice of words is critical to your meeting management success and the avoidance of temper flaring.

You may actually say something like, “If this idea is not an effective way to proceed, let’s explore other options.” At this point, you have converted any potential negative energy into either neutral or possibly supportive energy. You have, in essence, established empathy with the other person, elevated their comments to a professional level and set the stage to engage them constructively. Notice that you have not used any challenging language like “you”. Continue in the same breath, and before they perceive you as about to attack them, continue by saying, “What do you feel is an effective way to address this issue?”

The power behind marrying these two tactical engagement approaches together is that you are able to maintain control in the meeting and keep all energies moving in a forward direction.

As you “Get Out Of The Box” and “Demand An Alternative”, be prepared to ask the question politely in multiples of three. As you ask the above question the first time, it may catch the challenger off guard, and their response may be something profound like, “I don’t know.” If this happens, politely repeat the question as if you are a broken record. “If this idea is not an effective way to proceed, let’s explore other options. What do you feel is an effective way to address this issue?” And if necessary, do this two more times to either draw them constructively into the conversation with alternative solutions or cause them to realize you are not going to fight them.  Either way, engaging them will cause them to stop fighting you!

To enhance this tactical engagement approach, guard against role-reversal and challenge them. If they do respond to one of your alternative seeking questions, make it your standard response to, no matter what, say, “Tell me more. Why do you say that?”

This invites the other person to expand, and if they offered a senseless response, they will bury themselves. If they offered a valuable response that you didn’t understand, their elaboration will assist you in gaining a better understanding!

Converting human nature from defensiveness and posturing when engaging the meeting derailer will tactically allow you to cultivate solutions in an otherwise unproductive meeting. Remember, the purpose of the meeting is productivity, not counter productivity. And with productivity comes profitability.

Dr Jeff Magee
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