Meeting Mindfulness Tips
We all want to remember that the foundation for effective communication is mutual respect to be shared among members. One aspect of executive team communication is how we listen to each other in our deliberations, namely when we meet. Implicit bias towards women leaders, our uniqueness as extravert or introverts, whether we are verbal processors or data gatherers, dictates what's most helpful for us to have a meaningful exchange of information (to communicate). The primary way we communicate in work settings is by exchanging information in meetings.
As you consider your role in team meetings, consider how you might implement some of the following strategies to increase equitable opportunities for all voices to be heard, especially in meeting settings. These sorts of activities can happen when we're in virtual meetings - but we need to be a tad savvy with the whiteboard features and use of time-protected breakout rooms for reporting back out. It's a challenge, for sure! And only some meetings are planned for an hour or more, where many of these activities can more easily take place. Strengthening your communication protocols with buy-in from everyone with a commitment to practice equitable opportunities for everyone to be heard and to provide safety and opportunity for other team members to be heard are action opportunities for your team. And stay tuned, as it matters where you sit in your meetings.
Meeting Communication Strategies for Equitable Participation
Use strategies like these shared here to allow for equity of voice when feedback is needed and decisions are to be processed as a team. Committing to practice strategies such as these helps protect against some team members becoming disengaged because of not easily entering the conversation. This may occur because others often talk too frequently or interrupt more than we realize.
1. Practice Different Roles in a Team Meeting
Assigning team members different roles will keep the meeting focused and within agreed-upon guidelines. Switch roles across other meetings. The assignments increase engagement, and help model what behavior is beneficial in meetings. Consider appointing a leader, facilitator, timekeeper, notetaker, tech host, or chat moderator (if online), a vibes watcher, a decision-maker, a promise tracker, a voice of the customer, and an enforcer. (See further descriptions in articles on meeting roles at the end of the blog.)
2. Use a Deck of Cards to Help Pace Verbal Participation
I love this strategy! Maybe because our family is card sharks. Pull a card(s) from the deck or have someone pass out a few cards. Make your own rules, such as the lowest card can share first or the highest card can share first, and then proceed based on the next card in rank. Always offer a pass option if the member wants to use their invitation to talk card at another juncture in the conversation. This is difficult for the extrovert or the brainstormer especially. Encourage those people to listen deeply to others and look for where their ideas appear within what others may be sharing. Remember to return to anyone who might have elected to pass at the opportunity their card indicated it was their turn and invite their participation again. They might be a processor and will be ready to share later in the conversation.
3. Discern Agreement Quickly with Green, Yellow, and Red Feedback Squares
Another way we frustrate each other in meetings is when we revisit what we already agree on. Sometimes a leader senses what we all feel good about, and sometimes a leader may miss the cues. Simple squares of green, yellow, and red paper squares or pieces of cloth can provide simple nonverbal cues of agreement, a need for more information or cautiousness of that idea, or red indicating someone truly thinks that proposal is a no-go. By testing the feel of the room without words, time can be saved, and sentiment can be assessed to know which topics or ideas should be picked up and pursued further for understanding.
4. Use a Shared Google Doc or Other Online Document
Have members record feedback on the assigned question or item for discussion on a shared online document. This is especially helpful when people are tired or after a period of too much conversation or verbal work. It's an excellent remedy when a recent discussion was not equitable, and in hindsight, you realize a member or two dominated the landscape.
- Consider playing quiet music while a generous amount of time is put on the clock for simultaneous work.
- The leader can easily pose a question, ask for brainstorming, or rank a situation. Place parameters around participation, like 50-75 words or fewer responses.
- After each person has participated, you can invite others to comment on entries or even rank them.
- You can put question marks where you need more information to understand fully. You can put exclamation marks by statements you agree with. You can put yellow or red marks by ideas you are cautious about or are concerned about.
- Then and only then can the facilitator follow up on group discussion after a good chunk of the feedback is obtained.
The pause in conversation will have elicited a spirit of calm and given the brain a chance to renew before further discernment is needed in conversation. You may be tempted to assign this asynchronously. Still, there is energy and urgency when we gather even virtually, if necessary, and simultaneously work on the same problem.
I use another 10+ strategies for building equitable voice opportunities in meetings that I'd happily share with you. Email me, and the document full of meeting mindfulness ideas is yours!
Physical Proximity in Meetings
In addition to how we organize opportunities for our teams to creatively problem-solve, hear each other, work towards decisions, deal effectively with conflict, and for you to convey expectations and directions as the senior leader (think the purpose of a meeting) - you need to consider the seating arrangements for you and those in the meeting with you. Research shows that gaining our opponent's and allies' ears is vital to leaders' success. Being mindful of positions of influence is especially critical for women leaders to lead and serve.
- Long rectangular conference tables have the most influential seat at the head facing the door. Leaders should know who must enter and/or leave a meeting or any non-verbal behavior visible to all team members.
- The seats to the left and right of a leader are ally seats, and those who sit there will interact with the leader most and gain influence.
- The seat to the left of the leader is the preferred ally seat, where a conversation is garnered most readily from the power seat (the leader's position).
- Watch who chooses to sit opposite to you as the leader. The seat opposite the leader may be the confrontational or adversary seat. Plant allies there to cause a defensive team member to sit closer to the leader for a better chance of positive interaction between the two parties. Some teams purposefully leave the seat opposite the leader empty due to presentation screens or because they remove the oppositional seat.
- The middle seats are best chosen to be seen by the leader but where less influence is expected or engagement likely. Selecting a middle seat when present is important, but a back-seat demeanor benefits the conversation. Women leaders should be careful to choose this seat sparingly. Assigning dominant voices to middle seats can be helpful for equity of voice to be spread among other team members.
- Sitting next to someone brings more agreement, and sitting across from each other brings more oppositional/confrontational engagements. How can you leverage this for beneficial outcomes in your team?
- A round table or square follows a similar seating positional landscape. Depending on where the leader sits, the seats to the left and right will have the most influence with the leader. The leader will likely choose a seat, looking at the door, presentation screen, or window view. The seat directly across from the leader will pose the most contrarian views during the discussion.
Be mindful of the purpose of your meeting, its length, who is invited/expected, and the various roles played in the meeting. Paying attention to where people sit and taking responsibility to change those positions and experiment with participation rates is worth the effort. Mix it up and try some of the structures shared here for fun, variety, and, most importantly, building more equity of voice in the room. Contact me, and I'll happily send you more pages of meeting mindfulness resource ideas.
Transforming influence alongside you,
What I'm Reading:
- Here are two articles I reference in the blog with meeting roles and their benefit:
- 5 Meeting roles you need to assign for more productive meetings by Ana Erkic, Pumble
- 8 Meeting Roles to Assign to Your Team to Inspire More Productive Meetings by Elise Keith (Inc. article)
- Where to Sit For a Meeting...According to Science - An engaging video with demonstrations of power seats in meetings and where the allies and confrontational voices usually sit.
- The Surprising Science of Meetings: How you can lead your team to peak performance by Steven G. Rogelberg - A helpful resource to use when building structures for effective and engaging meetings.
Tags:Leading meetings, business meetings, leadership, Women leaders, women, Transforming Influence Blog
April 13, 2023