How to influence meeting outcomes, as a leader or a participant

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In today’s world of virtual meetings, many visual and all physical cues have been taken away from us. Depending on the number of participants and their visibility settings, our understanding of what’s going on is often restricted to what we hear. Yet you have the power to direct or influence the direction of any meeting towards a desirable outcome, simply by knowing how to ‘read’ people through their words and to use the right kind of expressions yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a leader or a participant, you can still influence the process.

This applies to face-to-face meetings too. Physical and visual cues become a bonus. They aren’t vital to your understanding. Nor is trying to guess why people choose to behave in the ways that they do. Regardless of your role in a particular meeting, you can achieve the best outcomes by focusing on the mechanics of verbal interactions. To other people, we are the sum of our behaviours and they will react to the ones you put on show. The same goes the other way round, except you can carefully choose your style of interaction and this, in turn, will affect theirs.

Let’s say someone was letting off steam about something. Nothing particularly wrong with that. But can you imagine how they’d react if someone said to them, “Calm down”. The reaction is unlikely to lead the meeting closer to its objectives.

What if you wanted to contribute but overbearing members of the group are so busy pushing their agendas that you don’t get a look-in. This is bad management by the leader, but you could say something like, “Excuse me, may I make an observation?” You have to insert yourself into the conversation in a non-confrontational way. A suggestion framed as a question is far more likely to work than a more aggressive proposal like, “Excuse me, I’m in the meeting because you wanted me here. Please let me speak.” That carries a hint of criticism and it directly challenges the overbearing people. It’s likely to create resistance or rejection. The sentences might not look that different but one stands a much better chance of moving the meeting forward.

For the best meeting outcomes, we have to assume that all the commonly taught elements of good meetings are being observed and that the leader and participants are of a reasonably sound mind. The image at the top of this article shows (in blue type) the elements typically taught and, hopefully, adhered to. The part in red type – the skilled management of interactions – is often neglected. The subject remains a mystery to many; leaders and participants alike. Yet, because behaviour breeds behaviour, it pays to recognise what’s going on in meetings and know how to choose the behaviours that will get the most out of the people around you, regardless of your official role. That’s where I come in with my interpersonal skills training courses, which I run either online or on-site.

The essence of human nature doesn’t change. (Can anyone today argue with the values laid down in different religions thousands of years ago – thou shalt not kill, steal, covet and so on?) Interpersonal skills learnt now will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Two sets of tools have benefitted me and the people around me for over forty years. On the one hand, we have the understanding brought to us by the psychologists that formulated Transactional Analysis (TA) and, on the other, the work done by psychologist Dr Peter Honey, resulting from his many years of consulting work with large organisations. Each gives us ways to observe and parse human interactions, one in a personal setting and the other in the context of the business meeting. The first focuses on five primary aspects of our personality and how we can shift between them. The other focuses on nine primary verbal behaviours (plus some wheel-oiling extras) and how you can achieve better outcomes by picking the right ones for any situation you find yourself in.

Through my experiences as a trainer, an employee, a boss, a partner, an editor and a journalist, I have applied these skills relentlessly and, as far as I can tell, to good effect. Rather than plunge into the deep psychology that lies behind the techniques, I have focused my interpersonal skills training on the practical essentials of each. The result is two 90-minute training modules that introduce you to things you can do right now to improve your influence in meetings of all kinds. (I also run ‘Media Interaction’ skills training modules.)

This website makes a point of addressing senior security professionals. This is because, in the event of a breach, they face particularly difficult meetings with very senior people, inside and outside the organisation. However, the courses apply equally well to others in many walks of life.

If this subject interests you, why not pick up one or both of ESTIME’s helpful Free Guides to Stakeholder Interactions and Media Interactions. You can also take a seven-minute Discover Yourself confidential questionnaire and I’ll send you back your personalised assessment which will help you understand your current preferred behaviours and their likely effect on other people. This is a great prelude to attending the Stakeholder Interactions – Personal course module.


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