Does anyone have a question?
Crickets. John had just dropped the bomb of an announcement about a re-organization of teams, which included letting one person go. He expected to face some resistance to this and was prepared for that. But what he faced was much worse. Silence.
He realized that just pausing for a micro-second once or twice to ask if there are any questions was not working. He genuinely wanted to understand his staff members’ concerns, wishes, hopes, fears about the new team structures. But with no information whatsoever it was difficult to know how the big news had landed. But how to stimulate interactivity and effectivity in meetings?
There are a few things John can do to create a more interactive atmosphere from the start of any meeting;
- Set the Tone – At the very beginning, outline the goal of the meeting, including the fact that you would get feedback/collect opinions/hear concerns, etc. If it is a short meeting, 2 or 3 minutes is all this takes.
- Align Expectations – If you are running a day-long workshop, it may be helpful to collect the expectations for the day from all the participants on a flip chart.
- Design the Alliance – In my school of coaching (CTI) we talk about designing the alliance between coach and client. This concept works for any relationship. It is simply the process of Giving them a minute or two to discuss with the person next to them the question “What should we agree to in order to make this a productive/fun/useful/interactive/… (fill in the blank)
- Walk your talk – Don’t just say you are going to ask for ideas and concerns and then forget to do it. Also set a time limit and stick with it. This will encourage people to speak up sooner in future meetings if they know the end is the end.
- Go First – If you want people to share things about themselves, or learnings from past failures, be willing to share yours too. The more vulnerable something makes you feel, the more important it is to be the first to say it. For example, if you want to encourage people to admit mistakes in order to learn from them, share a story about your biggest failure and how you felt, what the consequences were, what you did about it, and what you learned.
The engagement tips put in practice
A better scenario for John. When he puts these tips into practice, he starts the meeting by letting people know that the meeting will be about an upcoming re-organization. He immediately lets them talk, asking if they have heard any rumors of re-org (they will have!), and lets them vent. He spends a few minutes finding out what kind of information people would need to know in order to be able to feel well-informed about a re-organization (designing alliance). Some people will know exactly what they need, and others not, but this gives him a good basis. And if they need to hear things John can’t tell them – John won’t evade the question – he will simply let them know he cannot disclose that at this time (aligning expectations). If he knows when he will be able to, or at least what it depends on, he would disclose that too (walking the talk). John does not make any promises he cannot keep. He is courageously honest without disclosing sensitive information. He also says a few words about how he feels about having to make this announcement.
He plainly lays out the facts of the re-organization concisely and lets people know how he genuinely felt about it when he first heard the news and how he handled that.
This time, instead of simply asking, ‘Questions?’, he asks, ‘What else do you need to be able to absorb this information?’ and people either say, ‘Nothing right now.’ Or ask their questions…