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Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.
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What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

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What is active listening, how do I develop it and should I be making little noises?

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Listening skills are an integral part of many of our training solutions, e.g.  Influencing, Managing Conflict and Facilitating meetings all include practical components on listening skills. However, we had a rare request from a pharmaceutical client seeking training focusing solely on active listening for their senior managers.  The new board member strongly believed that improving her manager’s listening skills would have a major impact on the quality of relationships and the effectiveness of her team. And she was right … the seminar started and almost immediately, one manager asked me, “Active listening – that’s just when you make little noises, right?”


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What is active listening?

Our tactful answer was “not quite”.  Active listening (as the name suggests) is when you actively and fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the words.  Communication theory breaks what is being said into two elements – the content and the context. Content is the what – the data, the facts, the information etc. Context refers to everything else that is going on when somebody speaks with you – the relationship, the background, the situation, the emotions etc.  Active listening involves paying close attention to the content being shared AND the contextual components between the listener (the receiver) and the speaker (the sender). Skilled active listeners can hear the what PLUS interest, emotion, concern, energy and other contextual factors from the speaker’s perspective. And they can hear what isn’t being said.

Why invest energy and effort in building your active listening skills?

The benefits of active listening are many.  To start with you’ll hear more … much more. You can enrich your understanding through gathering information and understanding the emotions. You will ask better questions through noticing the speaker’s possible intent, and not only their words. It helps you avoid or diffuse conflicts. Better listening means that solutions and discussion are stronger. Active listening is a building block for open, trusting and accountable relationships.

7 practical tips for active listening

Pay attention

I mean REALLY pay attention to what is being said. Put aside distracting thoughts, try to block out environmental factors (side conversations, people watching etc) and listen holistically.

Know your obstacles to listening

Everyone is guilty of having “inner conversations” when listening – and whether it be judging, dreaming, solving or rehearsing what you want to say these common obstacles get in the way of active listening. Check out this blog post for more information or download the .pdf version here.

Develop countermeasures for your obstacles

Self talk to interrupt your distraction and refocus and internal paraphrasing can help. Basically, this sounds like you telling yourself “Stop it and focus on them not you

Listen for context

Approach a meeting with listening tasks such as learning the interests of others in the room and listening for the valued being created in the conversation.

Dialogue approach

Listen with a mind to understand what is being said and not judge what is being said.

Listen with your eyes

Listen to what they are saying, how they are saying it, “listen” to their body language and “listen” to their eyes.

Provide feedback

It is incredibly difficult not to filter, assume or judge when we listen. As an active listener your role is just to listen. Reflecting, restating and asking questions are essential – just make sure you are doing this to check you are understanding the content and context and not to discuss, negotiate, argue, influence, correct etc.

So should I be making little noises when I actively listen, or not ?

Of course we also send messages when we listen IF we listen actively and affectively. In western cultures we expect some feedback from our listeners that indicates interest, from non-verbal messages such as nodding, smiles, eye contact and posture to small verbal comments like “uh huh” or “ “I see”. Do keep in mind thought that not every culture listens in the same way – and likewise not every individual listens in the same way.  A lack of “ums” and “aahs” doesn’t always mean somebody is not listening.

To wrap up

Active listening helps you to create an environment that supports deeper, more honest and authentic communication. Whether you are managing people, negotiating, discussing, influencing, problem solving, why wouldn’t you invest the energy and effort in becoming a better listener?

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After the meeting ends – more practical ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

In last week’s post What to do before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with we shared 4 great techniques we’ve picked up from experienced chairpersons and facilitators during meeting facilitation seminars. This post keeps sharing the sharing. As trainers, we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and then you get to benefit from not only our knowledge and experience, but their’ s too!  So here are 5 easy-to-implement ideas to make you an even better chair or facilitator AND make your meetings that much more effective.

Making the time to debrief the process

Taking the time after the meeting to talk about how the meeting went means you can continually improve not just your skills, but the effectiveness and efficiency of your meetings too. Debriefing is all about identifying behaviours to maintain and things to do differently during the following meetings – and top performing teams take the time to reflect.  You could integrate it into your agenda  or agree upon reflection intervals.  My own experience is that immediacy  is better.  When asked to think about the last e.g. 6 meetings, people too often tend to either focus on the last 1 or 2 events, or speak in broad and vague generalizations that are more difficult to act upon.

Sending out minutes – each time, every time, always, no excuses, better late than never

Whether they be formal or informal, an executive summary or agenda-based, action-oriented minutes or verbatim [http://www.targettraining.eu/effective-note-and-minute-taking]  it’s a good idea to write them and send them out!  Great chair persons understand and commit to always having minutes.  They don’t approach them with a “we have proof” mentality – but rather with a “building” and “commitment” mentality. And they also give people an opportunity to review and add to the minutes.  But they have them.

Planning in “I should have said” time

People are wonderfully different – and this means that not everyone is going to contribute equally in your meetings.  It could simply be shyness, or perhaps an issue of interpersonal dynamics or politics.  More often than not it could be that an idea or opinion wasn’t fully formed and the person chose to think it through before speaking (especially if they have what the MBTI refers to as an “Introvert” preference). It’s too easy (and destructive) to take a “If you don’t say it in the meeting you lost your chance”. Plan time after the meeting is over so participants who need time to reflect can have a chance to share their insights. This also helps to build trust.

Taking the time for tête-à-têtes

Connected to the above, planning in time after the meeting for a tête-à-tête (literally a head to head discussion) also gives you an opportunity to

  • make apologies (or gives somebody an opportunity to make them)
  • reflect on behaviours
  • ask for a recommitment to ground rules
  • clarify confusion
  • resolve conflicts
  • ask for and receive feedback,
  • check resources
  • gauge true level of commitment to tasks

… plus a hundred other things which are best done on a one-to-one basis.  It’s not politicking – it’s about building authentic relationships.

Planning in check-ins to review commitments and accountability

If people have had the chance to share their opinions and ideas and robustly discuss options in your meting then you can expect real commitment to the agreed action.  And if people have committed then you can hold them accountable. Great chair persons explicitly review the commitments at the end of the meeting AND they follow up later on.  When they follow up they have an “inquisitive” and “supportive” approach. They understand that things may have changed since the meeting, that priorities may have shifted and that resources may have been over-estimated or diverted.  But they follow up.

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Plenty more meetings where that came from… And for even more information on how to make your meetings and your performance during meetings more successful, please contact us. We love to talk!


 

Before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

One of the best things about being a trainer is that you get to meet a lot of people from diverse backgrounds.  As trainers we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and we then get to share ideas, experiences and best practices with other clients. Below are some of the great ideas that top chairpersons and facilitators have identified over the last years during meeting facilitation seminars.


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Do you know who needs to be in the meeting and what they’ll be bringing to the table?

Before the meeting starts make a list of the decision makers, subject matter experts and opinion leaders. Then take a few minutes to isolate and identify their interests in the outcome of the meeting. Why? By doing this you’ll…

  • Know who to address about which topic when. This is especially useful if you have meeting participants who are quieter or introspective.
  • Know who to ask specific technical questions.
  • Be better able to focus the flow of information and discussion on the decision makers’ interests

Do you invest time before the meeting to talk with the participants?

This idea is too often quickly mislabelled as “politics”, but all of the truly impressive chairpersons I’ve been lucky enough to work with have stood by the idea. Great chairpersons and facilitators make the time to talk with individuals who will participate in the meeting about the meeting before the meeting begins. They do this to uncover interests, hear concerns and objections, and win support. They are then better able to connect interests, help others save face and steer discussions down constructive avenues.

I specifically remember a young project manager passionately convincing her fellow IT engineers of the merits of this behaviour and that “talking about the meeting before the meeting makes the meeting work -and that’s why we always finish our meetings earlier than planned!

Do you build your own ground rules – and review them at the start of every meeting?

Many organizations have established “meeting ground rules”. These may be unspoken, hidden away on the Intranet or printed on colourful posters and put in the meeting rooms. The advice is often solid and sensible.

But all the best chairpersons I’ve worked with have consistently supported the idea that ground rules work best when the team itself decides on their own ground rules and define acceptable meeting behaviour (for example phones on silent, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…).  This is especially important when working in virtual teams. When challenged by their peers that this was a waste of time answers included …

  • “The team takes the time to focus on the process and not the results. And my experience is that it’s the process that causes the frustrations 9 out of 10 times”
  • “Because everyone and every team  is different and the company rules can’t know this”
  •  “If they are our rules, and we made them, then everybody shares the responsibility for making our meetings work well”
  • “It means I don’t need to be the bad guy – because we all agreed and committed to the process up front”

Top chair persons and facilitators also tend to review them very quickly at the start of every meeting. One extroverted investment fund manager I worked with sang them and, to keep things fresh, changed the tune at least every quarter. You won’t be surprised to hear that his peers had mixed reactions to this idea (“It is not a serious idea Fabio, we are a bank!”) – but apparently his team loved it, and meeting attendance was high.

Are you building trust through building relationships and enabling “rough discussions”?

Great chairpersons and facilitators take the time before the meeting to get to know team members personally – and understand the dynamics between the participants.  This helps the chairperson;

  • understand people’ motivations and priorities (“what do they really care about?”)
  • adapt the dynamics and approach to respect he different personalities (e.g. not everybody wants to brainstorm as a group
  • adapt their own communication style e.g find the best metaphors and stories to illustrate key points,

But more importantly, as one German manager said “Rough discussions are important so we don’t keep having the same discussions again and again”.  This ties in with Patrick Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team idea that great chairpersons believe the more they know about the participants, the better they can facilitate open discussions. They’ll know when to push and when to stop, when to mine conflict in the meeting (force buried disagreements to light in order to work through them) and when to deal with issues in smaller groups. Building trust is a long-term investment, but as many meetings are chaired by the teams manager anyway it is an investment that pays off.

 

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Authentic communication demystified

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Free ebook presentationsWhatever your job, where ever you’re based, whenever you interact with others – authentic communication counts. It could be in a meeting, teleconference, interview, presentation, conflict situation … Your ability to communicate authentically will have an impact on your success. And your company’s success. But what do we mean by authentic communication? And what does it look like?

Authentic communication – the bare essentials

The term “authentic” communication is frequently used but too rarely defined or explained. To break it down to its basic component I’d say that authentic communication is fundamentally about intention. You genuinely intend to create a real connection with the person you’re speaking to. And you genuinely intend to allow them to make a connection with you. This intention means you

  • share who you are, where you are coming from and how you see something
  • do this in your own words
  • are honest and clear about what you see, feel and believe (saying what you mean and meaning what you say)
  • seek to understand and identify with the other person

Sounds simple, right? Let’s go deeper…

10 key behaviours authentic communicators display

Be yourself

Authentic communication isn’t about tips, tricks and impressive sounding communication tools and acronyms. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and with who you are. As Bruce Lee said…

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

And who would want to argue with him?

Open up

The key to is to really allow yourself to see the person you are speaking with and allow yourself to be seen. You let them see you as you really are at that moment and let them into your world. This can be frightening and involves a degree of vulnerability – but to be authentic you need to be real – and that means showing them something, and something that is true right now.

Listen

Make sure that when you are listening you are fully focussed one the speaker and not rehearsing your response, judging etc. Listening skills are the key to making a genuine connection with somebody. (How good are your listening skills?)

Work to create mutual understanding

Imagine yourself in the others’ shoes and be curious. Avoid second guessing and making assumptions about what others are feeling, thinking or mean. Check your understanding on a regular basis.

Take responsibility for your communication

Use I/me rather than we/our.  You need to accept ownership for what you say and be fully responsible for any unexpected consequences. You need to be descriptive.

Speak clearly

Use natural, conversational language. Short sentences are great, and look for common vocabulary. Avoid using ambiguous language and jargon. And if in doubt check you both understand what was said in the same way.

Watch the sweeping statements

Exaggerating to make a point is never helpful and creates divisions and resentment. Language such as “always” and “never” is rarely accurate.

Separate the objective and subjective

Try to be clear about what you see as an objective fact and a subjective opinion. If in doubt, ask for clarification.

Say what you do and do what you say

Match your words to your actions.

Be self-aware

Work to become aware of your own prejudices, tendencies, triggers and judgements. The sooner you can become aware of your reactions to specific triggers, the sooner you can focus on controlling them.

 

Fine-tune your communication skills.Take a look at our interpersonal seminars.

 

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Leading meetings in English

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What makes leading a meeting in English so hard?

Leading meetings can be hard enough in your own language. All eyes are on you, and you are responsible for achieving an outcome in an allotted space of time. You need to deal with derailers and challenges – for example manage comments, build inclusion, develop buy in, deal with challenging meeting members, and know when to start and stop discussions. Any experienced chair person knows that this is often not an easy task! And this is even harder when you have to do it in a foreign language.

Leading meetings in English can bring even more challenges:

  • Will you have to manage participants from different cultures?
  • How will you ensure involvement when some participants speak good English, and some don’t?
  • How will you manage the balance of power that language skills bring to the native speakers?
  • Are you comfortable enough working in English? 

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Relax – it’s all about the meeting, not you!

When I’ve had to run meetings in Spanish or German, it took me a while to realize that it doesn’t help to worry about these questions. I quickly learned that the participants were actually interested in the content of the meeting – and not my grammar. I also learnt that the native speakers really appreciated the fact that I was doing all this in another language. I relaxed.

Divide the meeting up mentally

As long as you have a structure, and some key language ready to manage the structure, you’ll be just fine. Divide the meeting into sections – for example the start of the meeting, during the meeting, and the end of the meeting. And then think about what your role is at each stage. Here are some ideas, but you’ll probably be able to think of others that are relevant to you. And then make sure you’ve got a few phrases practised for each stage. Knowing that you are able to use phrases like these, gives you that extra confidence you need when leading a meeting in English.

English phrases for the start of the meeting

At this stage you need to set the scene. This could include:

  • Introducing the purpose: Thanks for getting here on time. Today we’re here to discuss the… / The aim of today’s meeting is to….
  • Giving an overview: We’re going to run through the main points of the agenda, the main points we plan to cover today are….
  • Outlining procedures: we’ll start from the top, and there should be some time for AOB at the end.

English phrases for during the meeting

What’s your main role here? Basically throughout the meeting you are responsible for maintaining structure and focus, so that a clear outcome can be reached. If that doesn’t happen, what was the point of the meeting? In order to make sure this happens, you might need to:

  • Invite comments: Henri, what are your thoughts on that? Xi, perhaps you could tell us what you think about that?
  • Ask questions to clarify information: Could you run that by us again please? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I was clear about what you meant when you said….,
  • Clarify what someone else means: Are you saying that…? What I understood was that you’d….? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that……So, what you’re saying is…? Can I check that I’ve understood that correctly?
  • Test everyone’s understanding: Eva, could you summarize the main points of that discussion for us? What were the key points from that?
  • Steer towards the objective: Could we bring the discussion back on course? This is really interesting, but we’re drifting away from what we’re supposed to be talking about.
  • Interrupt: I don’t want to interrupt you but…, If I could just come in here…., Svetlana, let me just stop you there
  • Holding off an interruption: Could we come back to that later? If I could just finish what I was saying…. Can I just finish making my point?

English phrases for ending the meeting

This stage is about tying everything up neatly and making sure everyone leaves the room knowing why they were there and what they have to do next.

  • Summarize: So, to summarize then…., So, if I may, let me just run through what we’ve agreed here….
  • Confirm decisions: We’ve agreed that… Everyone thought it would be a good idea to….
  • Set next meeting: Would Monday 13th at 11:00 work for everyone?, Let’s schedule the next meeting…
  • Delegate tasks: Our next steps are to…., Luis kindly volunteered to…, Elizabeth agreed to send us all the ….

Share what works

Let us know about your experiences of leading meetings in English. What have been your main concerns? What did you do to overcome them? What advice do you have for others who have to lead meetings in English?

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Getting meetings back on track

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Do you ever feel your meetings have gone off track?

You’re in a meeting to talk about one thing, but someone is talking about something completely different, someone else is discussing an unimportant point, and others are debating something completely irrelevant – the whole meeting has gone off track! When this happens, it’s hard to get back on track and return to your meeting agenda. In international meetings with foreign colleagues, this can be much harder as you don’t want to seem rude or too forceful about sticking to the schedule.  You could watch the clock and give warnings when people are talking too much or are going over their allotted time, but again this could be misinterpreted as impolite and bad-mannered.

To avoid damaging delicate business relationships, here are some common ways and phrases for getting the meeting back on track in a professional an polite manner.

Be the moderator

  • Sorry, but we’re getting off topic and need to move back to …
  • Let’s return to the main point of today’s meeting.
  • We seem to be talking outside of the scope of the meeting.

Consider the value of the current discussion

  • Do we need to add this topic to the agenda?
  • Maybe we can get back on topic and postpone this to later?
  • Is everyone happy if we discuss this later?

Focus on the schedule / time

  • We’re running short on time, so can we move back to…
  • I’m afraid we’re running out of time.
  • I’m afraid I can only give you another minute.

Talk about briefness

  • Please keep to the point everyone.
  • Please make your comments brief.
  • Please keep your remarks short.

More on meetings?

Our blog authors have plenty to share!

We also have a number of seminars that might be of interest to you.

Ground rules for working effectively in groups

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Originally published on: 05.06.2014

One of my program participants recently mentioned the workplace value of the skills of moderation and facilitation. This conversation piqued my interest, so I searched the Net for the best books about facilitation and chose one that is considered a classic text on the topic of facilitation: The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches by Roger Schwarz. As a trainer who very often works with groups, one of Schwarz’s theories caught my eye: establishing ground rules for groups. Schwarz compiled a list known as The Ground Rules for Effective Groups that help make sure groups are communicating effectively. Below, the nine Ground Rules are listed with a short description (some or all of these rules can be adopted, or the group can create their own, at the first group meeting).

9 Ground rules for effective groups

1. Test assumptions and inferences

Making inferences from available information is a valuable skill, but what if we make these assumptions based on incorrect information or a misunderstanding of what someone else said? 

2. Share all relevant information

If members of the team don’t share all of their information, this can lead to incorrect decisions. Even worse, if it’s discovered later that someone withheld information, it can cause major problems. 

3. Use specific examples and agree on what important terms mean

If important terms are fully defined, team members can be assured that they’re speaking about the same issues in the same way.

4. Explain your reasoning and intent

If you can explain your line of reasoning to your colleagues, they’ll be better able to understand where you’re coming from. In addition, listening carefully to your colleagues’ explanations will help you understand the situation more fully.

5. Focus on interests, not positions

Closely linked to Ground Rule 4, number 5 suggests that we discuss the interests of the people involved and not the position they are taking. Rather than, for example, “He says the budget can’t go up, but I want a new computer,” think, “He needs more money for the advertising costs, but I can’t process the graphics with my old, slow computer.” Then, we’re thinking in terms of what people really need, instead of what we think they might want.

6. Combine advocacy and inquiry

In a nutshell, this ground rules means that when you state an opinion, you ask for comments and questions immediately. 

7. Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements

Agreeing on a system for solving disagreements beforehand can save time and make sure disputes don’t bring the meeting to a halt. 

8. Discuss undiscussable issues

Bringing sensitive subjects out into the open needs to be handled very carefully, but can ultimately lead to a group that is moving forward rather than constantly avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

9. Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed

If these (or other) ground rules are followed, hopefully all members will feel that they have all the information necessary to make an informed choice and that their voices have been heard. If this is the case and a consensus is reached, every member of the team will feel more dedicated to following-up on the decision, as they they have been an active part of the decision-making process.

More on effective groups and facilitation

The short description of the ground rules above doesn’t really do the book justice. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend getting a copy of The Skilled Facilitator for yourself. If you have experience with groups that work well together (or more tips for how to make group interaction more effective), please share them with us in the comments section below.

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Virtual Team Meetings: Creating Empathy and Rapport

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How are your Virtual Team meetings?

More and more meetings are being held virtually. Virtual team meetings are a trend that is bound to continue as it is far cheaper than getting everyone together. But it isn’t the same, is it? Unless you use webcams, you can’t pick up on any nonverbal communication going on. You can’t see people’s faces. You can’t see what they are thinking. To be honest, you don’t know what they’re actually even doing. You also, and this point bothers me the most, can’t have that cup of coffee together at the beginning where you exchange a few words often unrelated to business.

Why is the social aspect so important?

You completely miss out on the opportunity to establish any empathy or rapport with the people you are working with. Imagine for example that you are having a virtual team meeting to discuss solving a problem you have. If you don’t have any form of relationship with these people, how can you expect them to help? Isn’t it easier to request help from someone you know a little about? If you don’t know them at all, how can you choose the right way of talking to them to win them over? Of course, the need for empathy building will vary from culture to culture. Some will take an order as an order and just do it, but not that many. And what happens if you have a multi-cultural team?

What can you do to establish virtual empathy and rapport?

It is doubtful as to whether empathy can actually be taught. But there are techniques which help to develop it. Here are a few:

  • Begin the webmeeting on time, with a quick round of self introductions. It is important to hear everyone’s voice and know who is present. Remind participants that each time they speak, they should identify themselves again.
  • Log in early and encourage small talk while waiting for everyone to join in and at the beginning of the meeting itself – have that cup of coffee virtually. This will help to make a connection between people and give them a bit of character. In a remote meeting you often feel distant from each other, and this can make it difficult to interact. This feeling of distance happens, because the participants are in different places and often can’t see each other. Small talk helps to ‘bridge the distances’. Small talk also helps you to get to know each other and each other’s voices, so you know who is speaking and when. This will help communication later on in the meeting.VTchecklists

What can you talk about and what should you say?

Small talk can also give you valuable information about the other participants which could be important to the success of the meeting. What mood are they in? Are they having computer problems? Are they calling from a quiet location? Here are some topics we recommend using and some language to get you started. There are literally hundreds of things you could say, but it can be helpful to have a few prepared. You’ll see that some of these are particular to virtual meetings:

Location

  • Q: Where are you speaking from?
  • A: I’m at my desk.  How about you?

Weather

  • Q: What’s the weather like where you are? We’re clouded over!
  • A: We’ve got blue skies and sunshine.  Hope it gets to you soon!

Logging-in

  • Q: How did you find logging in?  I had a few problems.
  • A: It was fine.  What problems did you have?

Sound quality

  • Q: Can you hear me OK?
  • A: No sorry, you are a bit faint.  Can you please speak up?

Performance

  • Q: I am getting serious lag here.  How are you doing?
  • A: I am doing fine.  Maybe it is your internet connection.

Work

  • Q: How are things going in Marketing at the moment?
  • A: Oh, you know, busy as usual.  How are things in your department?

If you give lots of information in your answers, it makes it easier for the other person to ask more questions and keep the conversation going. If you just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it will stop the conversation. If you’re asking questions, remember to use open questions so that they can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.

More on this topic can be found in our Using Collaborative Technologies Seminar. Do you have any tips you’d like to share on how to build empathy and rapport in your virtual team meetings? Let us know in the comments area below.

 

Meeting Phrases: Disagreeing politely and diplomatically

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How do you disagree with colleagues in meetings?
You’re in an international meeting with people from all over the world and it’s time for you to agree or disagree with the solutions being offered. Unfortunately, you can only agree on one solution – so you have to disagree with someone.

However, disagreeing with a colleague at work can be problematic. If they believe you’re being too direct – or even rude or aggressive, it could have serious consequences for your business.

If this has happened to you, you may be working with a different business culture, one that expects disagreement to be softened or said indirectly to save face and maintain good working relationships.

Here are some common diplomatic and polite ways of saying “no” which you can use in meetings to disagree politely and diplomatically.

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Meeting phrases for disagreeing politely and diplomatically

1.  The partial agree

  • I agree with you to a point, but…
  • I understand what you are saying, however…
  • I see what you’re saying, but…

2.  Using words or phrases to soften your disagreement

  • I’m afraid, I don’t agree.
  • I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree.
  • Sorry, but I really can’t agree to that.

3.  Disagreeing using general doubt

  • Hmm, I wonder if it’s true that….
  • Hmm, I’m not sure it can work like that.
  • Hmm, I’m not sure whether it’s possible.

4.  Avoiding the negative

  • I don’t think that’s such a good idea. (NOT It’s a bad idea.)
  • I don’t think I can agree with you. (NOT I disagree with you.)
  • I’m not sure it’s the best idea. (NOT it’s the worst idea!)

Following these simple examples will help you maintain good business relationships when working with other business cultures and keep things positive and diplomatic in international meetings.  Want more ways to improve your meetings? Check out our seminar on facilitating meetings for more info on how.

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Meeting Rooms: Phrases for Booking Conflicts

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Do you ever have someone using the meeting rooms that you booked?

Have you experienced conflicts with the meeting rooms in your company? Imagine this situation: you’ve done hours of preparation for a meeting with your customer. Your slides, documents and ideas are in perfect order and you’re feeling confident. You meet your client in the lobby of the building and direct him upstairs to the meeting room you booked months ago, especially for this meeting. When you arrive, you feel a rush of panic: the door is closed and you can hear the sounds of a meeting in progress. You open the door. What should you do and say? It is important to knock on the door, enter slowly, excuse yourself and politely clarify the issue. Here are some phrases to help your issues with meeting rooms.

Phrases to use when discussing meeting room conflicts

 

  • Excuse me for interrupting. Do you have a booking? / Did you book this room?
  • I’m sorry to interrupt. Do you have a reservation? / Did you reserve this room?

The verb ‘to book’ is helpful when we need meeting rooms. We can also use the verb ‘to reserve’.

  • Sorry for interrupting, but I have a booking here. / I booked this room. / I reserved this room.

If you checked and you know you’re in the right place at the right time, it can help to be assertive and confident.

  • Hello. Sorry to interrupt your meeting, but I have a booking at 12:00.

If it’s close to 12:00, this can be a friendly way to suggest the person already in the room needs to finish his or her meeting in progress.

  • Hi. Sorry to interrupt your teleconference, but I think I have a reservation here at this time. Can we check the calendar?

It might be necessary to look together and see how the conflict happened.

 

While these phrases can help in the uncomfortable situation that two people have booked the same room, this doesn’t really solve the problem. Employees around the world complain about meeting rooms in their office. Bookings are changed, rooms are double-booked and appointments are modified at the last minute. Do you have any tips for how to manage this sticky situation? It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Want to improve your meetings overall? Click here for more information.

Acronyms and Abbreviations in Presentations

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Be clear and consistent

It can be very helpful to use acronyms and abbreviations on PowerPoint slides during a presentation.  This helps save time and space.  The key is to be clear as to what they represent, and then be consistent in using them.  A manager I train recently asked me to give feedback on a presentation he was giving to two new senior managers he would be directly reporting to. The presentation was about his department’s performance over the first half of this year.  After introductions, he settled in to his stride and I was really pleased to see that he had taken on board a lot of what we’d been working on in training. The presentation was well structured, pace and delivery were good, and he even felt confident enough to throw in a couple of jokes. One problem; it wasn’t until a good few minutes in to the presentation that I and his audience realized what some of the topics were that he was referring to. The problem? Abbreviations and acronyms.
Contact us nowBeing Clear with Acronyms and Abbreviations in Presentations

Acronyms and abbreviations are fine, as long as everybody is familiar with them. You’d be amazed at the amount of slides, documents and presentations I see where the use of acronyms and abbreviations confuses the reader about what is being presented. Believing that your audience will automatically understand because they come from the same business area or field of expertise as you is an easy trap to fall into.

Introducing Acronyms and Abbreviations in Presentations

When using acronyms or abbreviations in presentations, the first time you introduce them make sure to give the full word, name or title followed by the acronym or abbreviation in brackets.

For example: Structured Query Language (SQL). Using only the acronym or abbreviation after this shouldn’t then cause any problems.

Commonly Used Acronyms and Abbreviations in Presentations

AOB – any other business
asst. – assistant
B2B – business to business
CEO – Chief Executive Officer
CFO – Chief Financial Officer
dept. – department
mtg. – meeting
P & L – Profit and Loss
QTD – quarter to date
ROI – return on investment
YTD – year to date

So, being clear from the beginning with your acronyms and abbreviations in presentations can save you time and space on your slides.  All the while not confusing your audience, which is the most important thing. Want to improve your presentations overall?  Click here.

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Someone Late for Meetings?: 3 Questions to Ask

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When someone is always late

Effective meetings can be tough to manage when everyone is on time.  What about when someone is always late for meetings?  Everyone in an organization knows that lateness can be a problem, but the topic of what to do if someone is consistently late for meetings is rarely discussed. Here, the key word is consistently. Everyone can be late at one time or another, but it’s when someone is predictably, consistently late that problems begin to pile up. Before we get to the questions you should ask your chronically late colleague, let’s take a look at the questions you shouldn’t ask.

3 questions you shouldn’t ask your colleague who is always late for meetings

  1. Is your watch broken?
  2. Did you forget how to tell time?
  3. Where the hell were you?

Time management strategies don’t include learning how to tell time or buying a better watch. Experts in the field agree that if someone is consistently late for meetings, it’s their attitude that’s to blame. Changing time habits in relation to meetings means changing the colleague’s mindset, incentivizing being on time and not punishing colleagues for being on time. Yes, you read that right. Very often, meetings are postponed to wait for late colleagues, effectively punishing those who come on time.

3 questions you should ask your colleague who is always late for meetings

1.  Do you think you have a clearly-defined role in this meeting?

A clear role means having a specifically-defined function in the meeting. Some examples of roles: moderator, organizer, minute-taker, timekeeper and participant. Participant is the generic name for anyone at a meeting, but a participant has responsibilities at the meeting as well and should be held accountable for fulfilling them. Examples of the responsibilities of a meeting participant are: being active in brainstorming sessions, contributing to discussions and helping create the agenda for future meetings.

2.  You’re going to keep the minutes for the next meeting, right?

Keeping and distributing the meeting minutes isn’t exactly the most glamorous or enjoyable task. One way of encouraging participants to come on time might be to give them a small penalty (for example, maybe they have to keep and distribute the minutes for the next meeting, make a small donation to a charity or supply coffee for everyone at the next meeting). Naturally, the penalties should be light-hearted, but the cause should be taken seriously.

3.  Do you have any feedback about the quality of this meeting?

Being on time is important, but lateness can sometimes be a symptom of dissatisfaction with the meeting itself. If your colleague lacks a clear role, feels that their voice isn’t heard in the meeting or finds the meeting pointless, it can lead to carelessness regarding the ground rules your meeting participants agreed on (one of which should definitely be: we start and end on time).

3 benefits of considering these points when someone is consistently late for meetings

  1. You ensure all colleagues have a clearly-defined role in the meeting.
  2. You ensure that chronically late arrivals are punished for their tardiness, not the other way around.
  3. You accept responsibility for the quality of your meeting and give the participants a chance to give feedback. An anonymous feedback form made available on the company intranet might be one way of allowing colleagues to give constructive feedback in a comfortable manner.

As we can see, being late for meetings can be an indication that someone has a broken watch, but it can also be a reflection on the quality of your meeting in general. Taking a moment to reflect on the underlying reasons behind a behavior can be a chance to make sure your meeting is running as efficiently as possible.

Meeting Agendas: 3 Key Elements

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Meeting agendas are optional, right?  Business meetings can be held for many reasons: to discuss a topic, find a plan of action or update team members on the status of a project. After you’ve established the purpose and need for your meeting, then the next step is to create an agenda. A meeting without a clear agenda can be compared to a ship that’s sailing without a map: you’re on the sea and going somewhere, but no one knows where. In order to ensure your ship is on the right course, send a copy of your well-written agenda 24 hours in advance and have paper copies ready for the participants at the start of the meeting.

Three Reasons Meeting Agendas are Necessary

  1. If none of the topics are relevant for one person, they can skip the meeting and focus on the tasks they’re responsible for.
  2. A numbered agenda is a powerful organizational tool. If you refer to the agenda often, you can stay in control of your meeting and the amount of time spent on a topic.
  3. Agendas can be used as a feedback mechanism for whether or not your meetings are successful.

Three Key Elements of Meeting Agendas

  1. Basic information like the location, names of expected participants, date, start time and end time of the meeting. Even better, estimate the amount of time necessary for each agenda item – and stick to it. If something unimportant comes up, add it to your topics Parking Lot, or create an agenda item called AOB (any other business) that can be discussed if there is time at the end of the meeting. The AOB item can also be added to the agenda of the next meeting.
  2. The topic and the person responsible for it. If someone sees their name in writing next to a topic, they’ll know they’re expected to speak and can prepare for the meeting.
  3. An objective for each item, or for the meeting in general. If you’re searching for a reason for the meeting and you can’t find one easily, perhaps this meeting isn’t necessary.

Three Positive Outcomes of Creating and Distributing Meeting Agendas

  1. Attending unnecessary meetings results in lost productivity, which means lost revenue for the company.
  2. A clear agenda saves time, as it keeps the discussion on track.
  3. The agenda can be used as a checklist to track what has been accomplished in the meeting.

Of course, there are many other elements that can make meeting agendas even more effective. However, after committing to using an agenda and following the above steps, your meetings will be more efficient and the attendees more interested in contributing. If you have other ideas for creating agendas or making meetings more efficient, please share them in the comments section below. For information on how  you can run effective meetings, click here.