Meetings

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Making a difference in meetings – 6 approaches for introverts to be heard

You’re too quiet”, “you need to be more involved in our meetings and discussions” and “people who matter are getting the wrong impression of you because you aren’t forward enough “.  This is the feedback Sven, a high-potential from a German automotive company, shared with me during a management training program. Sven was clearly able and bright – but he was a classic “introvert”. The idea of extraversion–introversion is a core dimension in most personality trait models, including the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Sven is reflective rather than outgoing, and prefers working alone to working in groups.  Sven wanted to think before he talked, as opposed to talking to think. However, his natural introversion was getting in the way of his career opportunities.  Sven wanted to know “What can I do to be more involved in meetings … without having to be a different person?”
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Always prepare before the meeting

If you don’t have the agenda then get hold of one. If the organizer hasn’t prepared an agenda then ask them what they want to get from the meeting and which questions do they want to discuss Who is going to be there? Why have they been invited? Who will assume which roles? Get your thoughts together ahead of time. Write down questions, concerns and points you want to share. Turn up with a couple of clear points you want to contribute. This preparation means that you can …

Speak up early on

If you know what the meeting is about you can and should get actively involved as quickly as possible. Get your thoughts on the table as quickly as you can. This means that you will feel part of the meeting from the start, others will see you as involved and you’ll notice people connecting, challenging, or building on your contributions. And if your meeting quickly goes into an unexpected direction …

Take control if you aren’t ready to speak

When somebody wants to pull you in to the meeting and you feel you aren’t ready then actively control this. You have the right to take a little more time. Try expressions like:

  • “I’d like to think this through fully first before I answer”
  • “I’m thinking this through and would like a little more time”
  • “I’d like to let this settle and think it over. Can I get back to you this afternoon?”

Be aware that there is a danger of over-thinking too, and you may find the meeting has moved on too fast. With this in mind …

Accept that sometimes you need to just speak

If you aren’t fully ready to speak but feel you can’t ask for time try expressions like …

  • “I’m just thinking out loud now …”
  • “My first thought is …”
  • “This isn’t a fully-formed suggestion but how about …”
  • “Ideally I’d like to think this over some more , but my initial impression is ..”

And you don’t always need to have original ideas. If you’re not at your best try to …

Play to your strengths and leverage your listening skills

Many introverts are considered good listeners. You haven’t been talking that much and you’ve probably heard things that others haven’t (as they’ve been busy talking). This means you can …

  • “If I can just reflect back what I’ve heard so far …”
  • “What I’ve heard is … “
  • “I heard Olaf mention XXX, but then everybody kept moving on. I’d like to go back and ask …”
  • “I think we’ve missed something here ..”
  • “There seems to be a lot of focus on XX, but nobody has thought about YYY”
  • “If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment ..”

Accept and embrace that you can’t be perfect (all the time)

Nobody wants to come across as stupid or incompetent. But if you aren’t visible be aware that people may quickly see you as “the assistant”, or “the doer but not the thinker”.  Everybody has said things that have been wrong, incomplete, or poorly thought through. And vulnerability is  important for building trust. We trust people who are human and fallible. Be open to risking sharing ideas and thoughts and try expressions like …

  • “This idea isn’t fully formed but maybe you can help me …”
  • “I’m concerned I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here so let me just check ..”
  • “I know I’m missing something but here’s where I am so far ..”

And finally…

If the English is an issue then consider getting some targeted training. By doing the above you’ll quickly begin to be seen as playing an active role, and be viewed as a contributor. You can also expect to grow in confidence over time as you see strategies working and people reacting to you differently.

 

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Meetings in English are fine but the coffee breaks are terrifying

Martin, an IT Project Manager, was getting ready for a meeting with his European counterparts to review his bank’s IT security. As ever he was very well prepared so I was a little surprised when he confessed to being nervous. However, it was not the meeting itself that was worrying him – it was the coffee and lunch breaks. His nerves were due to having to “small talk”. Small talk is an essential element of building relationships.  Yes, the meeting is all about dealing with business and discussing the items on the agenda but it’s in the breaks in between where the relationships are forged.
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Why do some people find small talk so hard?

When we run seminars on small talk and socializing in English we hear many reasons why people struggle when they have to make small talk. Some people don’t know what to say, some are afraid of saying the wrong thing, some don’t know how to start a conversation, some are scared that people will think they are boring, some people find small talk a waste of time…and the list goes on. All of these objections, and fears are magnified when we know we are going to have to do it in a foreign language.

You prepare for the meeting so prepare for the small talk!

If you are nervous or uncertain about what to say during the breaks – prepare for them. First of all identify topics that are safe and suitable for the event and the people attending.  Depending upon the culture you are speaking with “safe topics” may be different but in general you are on safe ground with the following:

  • The weather – The forecast says it’s going to rain for the next 2 days. What’s the weather like at this time of year in Cape Town?
  • The event itself – I particularly enjoyed this morning’s presentation on big data analytics. What did you think of it?
  • The venue – This is one of the best conference centres I’ve been to. What do you think of it?
  • Jobs – How long have you been working in data security?
  • Current affairs, but NOT politics – I see they’ve just started the latest trials on driverless cars. I’m not sure I’d want to travel in one. How do you feel about them?

Opening a conversations and keeping it flowing

If you are going to ask questions, when possible, ask open questions. An open question begins with a question word – what, why, where, when, how etc. and the person will have to answer with more than a simple yes/no answer. Open question elicits more information and helps the conversation to develop. Similarly if you are asked a question (closed or open), give additional information and finish with a question. This will keep the conversation flowing.

7 phrases for typical small talk situations

  • Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Helena Weber from IT support in Ludwigsburg.
  • I’m ready for a cup of coffee. Can I pour you one?
  • I believe the restaurant here is excellent. Have you eaten here before?
  • What did you do before you joined the product management team?
  • Where are you from?
  • Did you see the story on the news about…?
  • It’s a while since I last saw you. What’s new?

Don’t forget

Your counterparts may well be as nervous as you are and will welcome your initiative in starting and joining in conversation with them.  You could be taking the first steps in developing new personal and business relationships

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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Surviving and understanding English corporate buzzwords and business lingo

Recently I was working with a software development manager from a major German multinational. He’d just got off a 2 hour webex meeting and was frustrated. “I thought my English was pretty good – but what exactly does We’ve worked through it soup to nuts mean?!”. I could empathize. It was the first time I’d heard this expression myself and I needed to understand the context before I guessed it meant from beginning to end. Corporate and business buzzwords, jargon and expressions can be a challenge for native speakers – and when English isn’t your first language things get so much harder.



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What do we mean by corporate buzzwords and business lingo?

The business world has always developed and used its own idiomatic phrases and vocabulary to describe all aspects of business and management. These expressions fall into 2 broad categories:

  • Some expressions are used across all business sectors, are very well known, widely used and understood. “We’re moving to an open plan office in the hope that it will improve cross-pollination” (cross-pollination is the generation of ideas by combining people from different backgrounds and with different skill sets).
  • Other expressions are specific to a certain business sector, for example marketing or auditing. This language (jargon) isn’t generally recognized outside the particular sector, e.g.  Shoptimization is the way forward (using apps to optimize in-store shopping experience).

Why do people talk like this?

This is a good question. A part of good communication is about making things easy to understand buzzwords don’t always do this.  Buzzwords are a type of jargon people use so they sound knowledgeable, up-to-date, important  … or just cool or funny. Is it effective? Decide for yourself. The video in this post is an excellent demonstration.  How many of the expressions do you recognize and understand?

Dealing with buzzwords and business lingo

I am a native speaker of English and have almost 40 years experience in the corporate world and I understood less than half of what was said in the video above. So what can non-native English speakers do when confronted by too much corporate speak?

Further online resources

Explanations for most of the expressions used in the video on available on these websites

9 common English jargon and buzzwords used in business

To close, here is is a selection of corporate jargon and buzzwords from the video … together with a simple explanation:

  • Let’s get our ducks in a row. = Let’s get organized
  • Can you put a deck together? = Can you prepare a visual presentation? (sales and marketing)
  • Loop me in on that! = Keep me informed of what’s happening.
  • He’s a disrupter. = He’s a person who changes the way things are done.
  • I’m going to have to marinade on that. = I need time to think about it.
  • Can you unpack that? = Can you give me more detail?
  • That’s not even in our wheelhouse. = That’s not in our minds.
  • That’s the silver bullet approach. = That’s the perfect solution.
  • Can we talk about that offline? = Can we talk about that away from the main group?

To summarize, don’t forget that even native English speakers struggle with business jargon and idiomatic expressions. If you follow the tips and make use of the links I’ve mentioned you will find it a little easier.

 

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Here’s a selection of posts if you want to read more:

 

 

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Handling difficult and disruptive people in meetings

 “I am really enjoying my new role as Lean Audit Manager! The only issue is, meetings can sometimes be very challenging as I don’t always get the support and cooperation of everyone attending.” Claudia, a very experienced and highly qualified engineer who had recently been appointed as lean audit manager, said this to me a few weeks ago. Naturally, some team members can feel uncomfortable when their processes and working methods are scrutinized and analyzed. It is not unusual for this discomfort to surface in meetings as difficult and disruptive behaviour.  The end result is that meetings can become unfocussed, unruly and unsatisfactory.  The same is true for any meeting – sometimes some people behave badly.

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Countering disruptive behaviour

First of all remember this is your meeting, you have set the agenda and it is up to you make it work. Having said that, let’s look at some typical types of disruptive behaviour, what we can do to manage it and some useful English phrases.

Someone is monopolizing the discussion

Some people love the sound of their own voice and will talk at length on any and every point and deny other people the opportunity to be heard.

  • Stop them, thank them for their contribution and move on to the next point or next speaker: “That’s really very interesting Thorsten but we really need to hear from Angela / move on to the next item.”
  • Draw their attention to the agenda and agreed timeframes:  “We have already spent more time on this topic than agreed and we need to progress to the next point or we will run out of time.”
  • Set a time limit:  “OK Andrea you have 30 seconds to finish your point.”

Someone is promoting a personal agenda

Some people seem oblivious to the actual agenda and seem intent on pursuing their own. If this behaviour is not quickly checked the meeting is in real danger of completely losing its focus. Keyis to step in early, stop them from talking and get back to the agenda.

  • “Eric, what you’re saying has nothing to do with our current agenda. I want to bring Petra in to give us the update we are waiting for.”
  • “Thank you for that insight – it has been noted in the minutes but now we must return to the matter at hand.”
  • “John, I realize this is something you feel strongly about but it has no relevance in today’s meeting.”

People are having side conversations

 You will often find people who are intent on making comments, or having a conversation with their neighbour. Apart from being bad manners it is also very distracting. There are a number of techniques to handle this situation. For one, you can stop the meeting discussion, be quiet and look at the people talking. Very often they will feel uncomfortable and fall silent very quickly.

  • Invite them to share their conversation with the rest of the group: “I don’t think everybody can hear you. Could you speak up, so we can all get the benefit of what you have to say?”
  • Simply ask them to stop: “Could you please save your discussion for after the meeting and rejoin the group discussion? Thank you.”
  • Focus them on the goal/outcome: “We will make much better progress if we could all focus on the matter at hand.”

Don’t assign blame

If individuals are behaving badly resist the temptation to single them out. This can lead to a hardening of attitudes. Instead highlight the unacceptable behaviour and its negative impact. Think about your own style as well as the needs and preferences of those attending your meeting. This will help you to find the most appropriate and most effective way of handling difficult behaviors in your meetings.

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10 common American sport idioms

Sports are an important part of many cultures, and that is especially true in the United States. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on tickets and merchandise and millions of fans attend events all over country. But, surprisingly, the most commonly seen evidence may be in the way people speak. American sports phrases have made their way into everyday English as sport idioms are often used in daily communication between friends as well as in the business world. As a non-native English speaker, you don’t have to have detailed knowledge of each American sport to use sport idioms. Proactively using them can be tricky at times, but passively understanding them is very important when doing business with Americans if you want to understand and speak their language.’


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ballpark

From baseball, meaning ‘an approximate number’ in business speak.  “Can you get us a ballpark figure on 4th quarter earnings?”

a curveball

Also from baseball, meaning ‘an unexpected action or event that is difficult to deal with’.  “They threw us a curveball during negotiations by doubling their asking price.”

to drop the ball

From American football, meaning ‘to make an error or miss an opportunity’.  “Bob dropped the ball by not preparing for the important meeting.”

a full-court press

From basketball, meaning ‘an all-out effort to apply pressure’.  “We need to do a full-court press on our supplier to ensure delivery by the end of the month.”

to hit a home run

From baseball, meaning ‘to be very successful’.  “Tom hit a home run when he closed the big deal with Microsoft.”

Monday morning quarterback

From American football, meaning ‘a person who criticizes something after it has finished with the benefit of hindsight’.  “I wish Mary would stop playing Monday morning quarterback and give us input before our projects are finished.” 

to play ball (with)

From baseball, meaning ‘to cooperate or act fairly with’.  “Let’s hope headquarters agree to play ball with our new ideas on decentralization.”

to be saved by the bell

From boxing, meaning ‘to be saved from something bad by a timely interruption’.  “We hadn’t finished the presentation in time, but were saved by the bell when the client pushed back our meeting at the last minute to next week.”

to throw in the towel

From boxing, meaning ‘to quit or admit defeat’.  “After spending three hours trying to recover my deleted file, I threw in the towel and started over from the beginning.”

(someone’s) wheelhouse

From baseball, meaning ‘(someone’s) area of expertise, where they are most comfortable’.  “Susan studied to be a lawyer before joining the company, so legal negotiations are in her wheelhouse.”

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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.

 

The FACTS and benefits to consider before you organize a meeting

meetings free ebookMost of us have been there at least once in our professional lives: You enter or leave the meeting wondering why you were invited and how you will make up for the precious time you’ve just lost by attending the meeting. And you wish the meeting organizer had stopped to ask “Do we really need this meeting?” before the meeting took place. 

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Consider the FACTS and the benefits before organizing your next meeting

To help you decide whether a meeting is worth holding, we ask you to consider the FACTS:

Format

Is a meeting the right format?

For example, if the goal of your meeting is only to relay news to your team, maybe you can save everyone time and send an email instead? Can, for example, everyone on your team make it to the meeting? If you’re relaying important news, will they feel left out?  Thinking about alternative formats to meetings can reduce the total amount of meetings you need to have with your team. There are pros and cons of meetings, emails, community updates etc., and there is no right or wrong. You need to make the decision as to which is the right format for each situation.

Aims

Is there a clear, definable aim for this meeting?

A meeting without a specific aim is usually a waste of time. However, there are situations where the aim is vague. Perhaps, for example, you haven’t seen each other for a while. You may not have something specific to say, but explaining the situation helps everyone to understand why they are in the room. And meeting to catch up and network is a perfectly valid aim. There are also cultural considerations here – in some cultures meetings are to get work done, in other cultures they are to build relationships. There is no right or wrong, but a happy medium needs to be established in international environments.

Consequences

Are there negative consequences if we cancel?

If you can’t think of any negative consequences of cancelling, then there’s no reason to have your meeting. If you do cancel with people you’ve already invited though, make sure you offer some explanation. And be honest. Don’t try to make up an excuse for cancelling it. Just explain what you are thinking. The chances are that most people will rate you very highly for doing this.

Timing

Is now the right time to meet?

Perhaps new developments in the near future will make your meeting unnecessary? Do you really need to have this meeting at the same time each week? Why are you calling the meeting in the middle of the holiday period? Giving a bit of thought about the situation now can save time later.

Sense

Does it make sense?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, then holding the meeting clearly does not make sense. Cancelling this meeting is definitely the best option.

Three benefits of cancelling an unnecessary meeting

You may be reluctant to cancel a meeting, especially if everyone else around you seems to be in meetings regularly. Here’s why you need to lead the way by taking this step:

  1.  You save everyone valuable time – when you cancel a meeting, you and your colleagues can use that time to focus on tasks that add value to your organization.
  2.  You save money – when you calculate the resources needed to hold a meeting, the price can be extremely high.
  3.  You lead your regular meetings more effectively – knowing when to meet is just as important as knowing how to run a meeting. If you do this right, the participants in your meeting will know that their valuable time is always being used in the most effective way possible.

For more tips and language for managing meetings in English, why not look at our ebooks and related blog posts.

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Negotiation tactics – Why silence is golden

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a purchaser who worked in the automotive industry. The conversation drifted to the topic of negotiating and we began to compare countries and styles. The purchaser, a Norwegian, said half in jest but seriously enough, “You English cannot handle silence”. As a full-blooded Brit I can only agree. Many cultures, especially Scandinavians, are more comfortable with silence than others. But why is this? The impact of culture on how we communicate is certainly a factor. When I lived in Sweden I had the impression Swedes and Finns took a long time to thaw out and small talk consisted of a “Jaaaah”.  The English, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable with silence and will often fill the air with meaningless chatter.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language



“A Finn and a Swede go into a sauna.  After 30 minutes the Swede says “It’s hot in here”.  The Finn replies “You Swedes – you talk too much.”

Why am I sharing this? If, like me, you’re from a culture where communication is direct, silence is a hard skill to master. But whether it’s a cultural norm, a question of personality, or even a trained skill, being comfortable with silence when negotiating is essential if you want to reach your goals.  When used in a subtle and careful manner, silence can reshape negotiations and extract surprising amounts of information while leaving your counterpart feeling they are in charge of the conversation.

Value added question + silence = insight

A good negotiator, no matter what nationality, will probably be assertive but charming, have good questioning skills, and handle pressure well. Questioning skills are a must – and here silence plays a role. Silence can prompt your counterpart to share more than they planned to – verbally or non-verbally.

Poor negotiators will often answer their own question: “What price were you thinking of? I was going to suggest something in the region of € 105 per unit.”. Poor negotiators do not ask enough value added questions – a value added question being one that makes the other party pause and consider, e.g. “How did you arrive at that figure?” “What are the consequences for your clients?” “How can we help you sell this concept inside your organisation?” Answering value added questions needs time. Use the silence to observe your partner.

You have the right to be silent

Let’s assume you have asked a good question and the other party is taking his/her time to answer. A few seconds is not a problem, but after ten it can become tense. Learn to look serene and confident, smile at the other party, look at your notes and scribble something. Stay connected to the other party with body language and eye contact. At some point the other party may buy time and say “I’ll get back to you.” Alternatively you can also suggest moving on to another point. But give silence a chance.

And if the roles are reversed you have the right to be silent. Do not shoot from the hip with a half-baked, badly thought through answer. Learn to be comfortable with silence. “I’m thinking this through”, “I’d like to explore this idea, give me a minute” or “I’ll get back to you.” will buy you time.

Learning to use silence in negotiations – the role of training and practice

Silence has to be practised and refined in training or coaching. Training helps you become aware of your relationship to silence; then develop the skills to use it subtly and effectively through role plays, real plays and critical incidents. Training goves you the opportunity to repeat situations and develop awareness, confidence and mechanisms for handling silence. You can practice asking the right questions, leaving room for the other party to develop a sensible answer, practice NOT shooting from the hip, and practice behavioural strategies that make the silence comfortable for both you and your opposite number.

And remember – when negotiating silence is not a threat; silence is golden.

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Powerful Communication – The Power of the Purpose Pyramid

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listening skills target trainingThe purpose pyramid is one of the simplest and yet effective communication models for introducing a presentation, opening a meeting or organizing your thoughts that there is. It is so simple, in fact, that no one seems to take credit for it though you will find it in the work of many communications gurus. The four questions in the pyramid aren’t special by themselves, but together they offer a powerful way to connect what you want to do with the goals and needs of your organization, no matter what business you are in or function you perform. Why? + What? + How? + Who? = Alignment. The Purpose Pyramid makes it easy for you to structure your communication – in any situation.

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Why?

Why is where you share or remind your team about the deeper meaning and purpose of the organization. This is the reason that energizes you and your colleagues as well as your customers. What’s your why? Your purpose is best when it brings the energy of your team together and they can all see themselves in it. It should also attract internal and external customers to your work.

A band plays music, by definition – but wouldn’t you rather see a band whose purpose is to give you high energy and a memorable musical experience?

At a more nuts and bolts level, you can also apply the why to day-to-day interactions and situations. An example could be to state the purpose (why) of a meeting on the agenda for everyone to see. If there is a question about being on track, the team can refer to the mutually agreed purpose of the team.

What?

What refers to the tasks you and your team need to get done to contribute to making your purpose a reality. At their best these tasks are things you can track and observe easily so all can know when it is accomplished. For example, to have better meetings is not a clear task. Having everyone contribute to the meeting is a clear task. The SMART principle is a great model to use, just remember they should in some way contribute to achieving your purpose.

An example could be to make task identification a two-step process. Instead of automatically identifying who should complete a task at the same time as identifying the task, outline just the tasks first. Going through the how before identifying who will help team members to know what they are committing to.

How?

How is where you turn to your method, approach or process, How will you get your tasks accomplished? For example, sticking with the “better meetings” example, if my task is to have everyone contribute to a meeting, I could tell the team members I expect them to contribute and hope for the best or I could use a polling technique in the meeting to give each attendee the space to speak uninterrupted.

If a task is complex, the “how” could be a process or procedure that helps to complete the task effectively and efficiently. If you have standard operating procedures in place, this is the time to stress their use.

An example could be to identify the resources and process necessary to complete a task before asking who will do it. Leaders get a chance to offer support to the team and may encourage team members to accept a stretch task because they know how they will be supported.

Who?

Who refers to the individual and collective commitments or expectations that match your team to the tasks at hand. In most meetings the who stage tells how well we’ve done the other stages. If team members recognize and connect with their purpose, the necessity of a task and the process and resources to get it done, it’s a lot easier to agree to do them. With the clarity you’ve built earlier, it is easier for you to ask for what you want while committing to do what is necessary to support your team. A great question at the end of a meeting is “what have we agreed to do?” to check agreements without sounding like a task master.

Browse our blog for more tips and tricks

And/or let me know of any other useful communication tools that always work for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

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The alternatives to a weekly update meeting

PRESENTATIONS

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VT posterIt’s 11:00 on Monday morning and your team, spread across the world, is about to dial in to a virtual meeting. Why? To update each other on what’s been going on over the past week, and what might happen over the next few weeks. In theory this could be really interesting, useful and beneficial, if it weren’t for the tight deadlines you have this week, and the knowledge that you’re going to be putting in a few late nights to meet them. Do you really need to spend time listening to Thierry, Namrata, and Quentin talking you through their week when you’ve got so much to do?

The reasons why weekly update meetings contribute to the success of the team’s performance

  • They keep you all in contact with each other. Emails are useful, but you don’t talk to each other. There is no real chance to build rapport and trust with your colleagues on the team.
  • They give the manager a chance to talk to and relay information to everyone at the same time.
  • Things happen in the week and everyone then knows that they have an opportunity to talk about them on this regular occasion. Unless something has to be dealt with right now, you can save it until then and not interrupt everyone during the week.
  • High performing teams help each other in difficult situations. If you don’t go to that meeting and share the fact that you are under pressure, nobody will be able to help you out. Everyone is, after all, working towards the same goals.

What makes weekly update meetings great?

There are, again, so many factors that could make these meetings great. This starts with recognizing that there are problems, and dealing with them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If everyone is well-prepared and sticks to the agenda.
  • If everyone takes turns to speak.
  • If everyone shows interest when the others are speaking and reacts to what the speaker is saying.
  • If the language used is clear so that everyone can understand.
  • If the agenda varies from time to time. These meetings do run a risk of becoming routine. If you change the contact from time to time, this can help with the interest level.
  • If everyone commits to agreed rules.
  • If people refrain from doing other tasks at the same time as the meeting.

The alternatives to having a weekly update meeting

Do you simply want to update and be updated or do you want to help improve your team’s performance? If you’re looking for alternatives to the weekly meeting, then these options might be useful.

Email

There is definitely a time and a place for emails, and they serve the purpose of conveying information. But they can be misread, and they can also be not read. There is no interaction and you have no chance to discuss responses with everyone at the same time unless you want an inbox bombardment.

A team portal or community

A lot of organizations now have their own internal social network. You can use communities for a wide range of purposes. You may also have a portal for your team. Why not use this to post updates before the meeting and then ask team members to talk specifically about one or two of the points? Alternatively they could ask questions on the portal/community that they would like help with. If everyone else has seen the issues in advance, then they have time to think, and will have something to contribute.

What is the structure of the update?

Just like with meetings, it is useful to give team members a common structure if you decide you’ll use email or an online platform for your weekly updates. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want them to share?
  • What tasks are they working on?
  • What challenges are they facing?
  • How can the other members of the team help?
  • What are the next steps?

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help improve the way your (virtual) team works, take a look at http://www.targettraining.eu/soft-skills-trainings/?lang=de and our ebook http://hs.targettraining.eu/ebook/virtualteamschecklists

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What comes first, the coffee or the meeting?

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Dealing with different expectations in meetings

mediumHave you ever needed to discuss terms and conditions with international partners? You come in ready to get down to business as quickly as possible, only to discover that the others first want to have some small talk or a coffee before discussing business? You might think to yourself, “Are we here to have a nice time or to do business?”

How we expect a meeting to run and how the meeting really progresses might be very different. We can all face the question, “When are we ready to get down to business?” So how do we find the correct balance between small talk and business? How should we identify what our partners (or participants) expect in advance?

General tips to consider before beginning the meeting

  • Find out about your audience in advance. What might be most important to them?
  • Consider following the cues of others in the meeting. How and when do they ask questions?
  • Think about potential differences in expectations and possible solutions in advance.
  • Know what you want to achieve during the meeting and how you wish to do so. Be aware that the audience might not have the same goals or process in mind.
  • Know both formal and informal phrases for dealing with different expectations.
  • Know when to use the phrases you’ve identified.
  • Notice possible mistakes (i.e. starting too soon, ignoring the other participants’ needs, etc.) and ask for feedback
  • Be aware of the importance of company culture.

Some questions to ask yourself before the meeting

  • What do the meeting participants expect?
  • When should I begin discussing business?
  • Is a formal or an informal tone better?
  • Does my company have any official information I can refer to?
  • Where can I go to find out more information about potential pitfalls?
  • What do I feel is a good balance which will accommodate everyone?
  • Would it be beneficial to receive extra training in this area?

Dealing with expectations in international meetings

When preparing for international meetings, we can take inspiration from the 7 dimensions of culture, as defined by Dr. Fons Trompenaar. They are:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism (Rules versus Relationships)
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism (The Individual versus The Group)
  3. Specific versus Diffuse (How Far People Get Involved)
  4. Neutral versus Emotional (How People Express Emotions)
  5. Achievement versus Ascription (How People View Status)
  6. Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time (How People Manage Time)
  7. Internal Direction versus Outer Direction (How People Relate to Their Environment)

The area that best relates to our “getting down to business” scenario is the Specific-Diffuse dilemma. Here’s a quick overview* of this dimension:

Dimension Characteristics Strategies
Specific People keep work and personal lives separate. As a result, they believe that relationships don’t have much of an impact on work objectives, and, although good relationships are important, they believe that people can work together without having a good relationship.
  • Be direct and to the point.
  • Focus on people’s objectives before you focus on strengthening relationships.
  • Provide clear instructions, processes, and procedures.
  • Allow people to keep their work and home lives separate.
Diffuse People see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients.
  • Focus on building a good relationship before you focus on business objectives.
  • Find out as much as you can about the people that you work with and the organizations that you do business with.
  • Be prepared to discuss business on social occasions, and to have personal discussions at work.
  • Try to avoid turning down invitations to social functions.

*Taken from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/seven-dimensions.htm

You could ask

Specific

  • Do functions and roles define relationships with others?
  • Is written communication more important than face-to-face or telephone?
  • Are closed questions more often used than open questions?

Diffuse

  • Do relationships with others define functions and roles?
  • Is the background story or information necessary for understanding specifics?
  • Is it valuable to invest time in getting to know each other directly and personally?

As the saying goes, being well prepared is half the battle

Although it might take a bit more time, considering the questions shown above should help you to be better prepared for meeting situations where individuals have different expectations. If you would like to learn more, have a look at our intercultural seminars or some more of our intercultural blog posts.

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3 communication problems faced in meetings and 9 facilitation strategies that will solve them

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Even if you’re well organized, with a clear agenda and purpose, basic communication problems can arise that can derail your meeting very quickly. If it’s your job to moderate a meeting, you need to be able to get clear decisions without wasting too much time. Below, we present a few common communication problems and basic facilitation skills that can solve them and get your meeting back on track.

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Problem 1: Deadlock

Situation: The group discusses an issue fully, but no agreement can be reached because no one changes their opinion. Here’s an example:

Chris: That brings us back to the question: do we want to host the event in Denmark or Croatia?

Dana: It’s too cold in Denmark. Let’s go to Croatia.

Richard: I still don’t understand why we can’t just do it in Germany.

Mark: Russia! Russia! Russia!

Laura: We’ve been talking about this for an hour. Can’t we just choose one?

Strategies for dealing with deadlock

  • take a break and try again, but with a clear time limit to make a decision
  • make a temporary decision that can be changed later
  • use a problem-solving tool like the FOCUS model

Problem 2: Unimportant points

Situation: The group discusses trivial points and wastes time. For example:

Mike: So should the picture be on page 343 or page 344 of the report?

Strategies for dealing with unimportant points

  • as facilitator, give one person the power to make a final decision
  • scan the agenda and delete unimportant items before the meeting, then discuss those points with the relevant colleague privately
  • if there’s one idea that everyone seems to be happy with, name it as the choice and quickly move to the next point

Problem 3: stubbornness

Situation: One person sticks to their opinion no matter what anyone else says, and refuses to change their opinion. For example:

Tina: I don’t care what you say, I insist that we use Acme as our telephone company.

John: But Acme is the most expensive.

Tina: That’s true. But our telephone company must be Acme.

Strategies for dealing with stubbornness

  • ask questions to find out why your colleague insists on this one option. Maybe there is information the group doesn’t know that can help the discussion move forward. Insist on full answers to your questions.
  • rather than attacking what you see as a stubborn approach, try to put yourself in your colleague’s shoes. The situation might look differently from their perspective.
  • if the colleague still refuses to change, apologize and tell them that while you value their opinion, the group has made another choice

Communicating across cultures – What’s in a name?

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Communicating across cultures begins with the understanding that one size does not fit all

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mediumDifferences in cultures, as we see so often, can lead to a host of great and small misunderstandings. Take something as simple as a name. It is entirely common in some German companies to use Mr. or Mrs, followed by the surname, even after years of working together. This custom can confuse a visitor from a different culture to the point that negotiations and/or meetings are less successful than they could have been – if only one of the parties had addressed the elephant in the room: How do we address each other?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

What is perfectly acceptable in one culture may be perceived as too informal or unprofessional in another and that is also for true for the use of someone’s name. Business, conducted by Germans and non-Germans together can get complicated. Can you use first names in meetings? When? How do you know if it’s acceptable? If you ever find yourself in such a situation, here’s what you can do…

Don’t panic

When you do business in Germany, assume that ‘Mr..’ and ‘Mrs..’ is the norm. This may throw you, but don’t take this formality as a reflection on you or your business relationship. You should know that it’s very likely “Herr Jung” and “Frau Groß” use last names when they speak to each other, too. The silver lining is that it’s quite a leap forward in the business relationship if someone invites you to use his/her first name.

Take the initiative

Let people know how you would like to be addressed before that elephant shows its long-nosed face. When introducing yourself, give your full name first “Good morning, my name is Bette Ernst.”, then add a simple “Please, call me Bette.” This may seem too friendly, but it certainly establishes one of the most important things you may want them to know: you see them as an ally, a partner, and you want to work with them.

At this point the other person has two options:

  • They can take you up on your offer: “That’s very kind, Bette.” And they will probably follow up with an offer for you to call them by their first name: “And, please call me Al.
  • They can politely decline: “Thank you, but we prefer using surnames in this company” or “Thank you. But I think I’d feel better with Mrs. Ernst’.” Then you must keep using their surname, as well. Again, this is not a reflection on you. Some people just prefer to wait until they know someone well – beyond a first meeting – before they start using first names.

Better be safe than sorry

“When I speak to my boss in the office, in a regular conversation, I can use his first name. But in a meeting or in front of the other colleagues…no way!” That was what an Executive Assistant told me when I asked her if she referred to her boss by his first or last name. Always err on the side of safety. Authority and formality matter in a lot of cultures. If you might embarrass the person or call her stature or authority into question by using the first name, don’t do it. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. Again, if they offer to allow you to use their first name, it’s a big step. Well done!

Consider the big ‘but…’

If you expect the meeting to be especially contentious, if you have to negotiate with someone particularly difficult, if the meeting will involve a significant amount of disagreement, or if the discussion involves unpleasant topics, it’s probably better that you stick to more formal language.

Although offering to let others call you by your first name is a great way to immediately ‘warm up the room,’ I think it’s almost never a good idea to ask someone if you can use their first name. “May I call you Peter?” sounds polite enough, but it can put people on the defensive. They may feel you have “crossed a line” merely by asking. You can also suggest that everyone in the meeting use first names, but that’s a minefield you’d do well to avoid.

International business etiquette

Besides the large amount of cultural differences, there are also a large number of commonalities when it comes to doing business internationally. Here are two links:

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Help! How do I speak English in a meeting after not speaking English for years?

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This is what a stressed-out team leader asked me last week. His manager had asked him to present his ideas at the global management meeting in English – but unfortunately – he hadn’t spoken English for a long time and needed help. Luckily, there are many things you can do to ease your anxiety, so if you suddenly find yourself in the situation where you need to speak English after a long break, here are a few things you can do.

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1. Prepare

Take a moment to go over some English basics. Make sure you can introduce yourself simply and explain your position in the company. Also think about how you will ask a question, interrupt a speaker or ask for clarification if you need to. Which key words can you check before going into the meeting?

2. Manage expectations

Make sure you manage your own expectations regarding how much you will be able to follow the meeting and how much you will be able to contribute. Do not expect to suddenly understand everything if you are returning to English after a long break. Expect to slowly get used to hearing English again. Expect to follow more as the meeting goes on and you relax a little. However, also expect to get tired quicker as it takes a lot of effort to listen to an English meeting after a long break!

 3. Take notes

If you are having trouble following, take notes so you can catch up later or have someone give you more details in your own language afterwards. Do not try to write down everything! Focus on writing down key verbs (important actions) and nouns (important names and points).

 4. Be honest

If you need to contribute, be honest about how much you can communicate and how much you understand. There is no point in lying or pretending you understand – it is easy to see how much you are following (or not). There is no shame in being rusty; it is hard to speak another language, especially in business. The other people in the meeting will appreciate your honesty (and many may be feeling the same).

 5. Use resources

If there are slides in the meeting, make sure you ask for copies so you can go over key points after the meeting. If you are allowed to bring your laptop into the meeting, use an online dictionary when you do not understand words that are used repeatedly. Do not check each and every word, just key words that are repeated during the meeting and are important for understanding. Also, although the meeting is in English, you can ask colleagues for a quick translation during the break (or quietly as the meeting moves from speaker to speaker or topic to topic). Use every resource available to make sure your return to English is as pain free as possible.

Boost your Business English

Sign up for your weekly shot of Business English, for free. Or take a look at other posts from our blog:

Learning to listen: lessons from baseball, TED talks and an alien life form

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How well do you listen?

Sound matters. In work. In life. Sometimes we forget that. I heard a story recently that was told by a former Major League Baseball player. He talked about a manager he once played for. During practice, the manager would put players in the outfield with their backs to home plate. A batter would stand at home plate and have someone pitch the baseball to him. Baseball bats are made of wood and are roughly 30-34 inches long. The cork-filled, leather-covered ball is thrown anywhere from 80-100 miles per hour. The batter would swing the bat and hit the ball. Now here is the important part:

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Because the player in the outfield had their backs to home plate they had to train their ear to know what part of the field the ball was travelling to, based on the sound created when the baseball made contact with the bat. If you’ve ever seen a baseball game (or cricket) you know you can hear when a ball is hit solidly. But you can’t determine where it is going to travel. This manager wanted his players to hear the contact, and make a split-second decision to race to the position they believed the ball was going, without even seeing it. With practice, players knew exactly where the hit ball was going.

They had to learn to listen.

Are we “losing our listening”?

TED, the great, freely accessible online source for learning, has what I think are two of the best talks around on how to achieve excellent communication. Both are by Julian Treasure, author of an excellent book on the impact sound has on our working lives called ‘Sound Business,’ and both are well-worth watching. In one, he talks about speaking well and in the other, the one I suggest below, he talks to us about listening.

Of his five tips on how to listen better, the final one – an acronym, of course – RASA, the Sanskrit word for ‘juice’ or essence’ is exactly that when it comes to business communication: listening is important, it’s the essence of effective business communication. RASA stands for:

Receive

That is, actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Appreciate

By making natural small noises or utterances like, “ah” or “hmm” or “okay.” You may have also heard it referred to as active listening.

Summarise

Very crucial to all sorts of business communication, from presentations to negotiations and everything in between. Here it’s critical you are authentic and summarise what you heard – NOT what you wanted to hear.

Ask

And finally, ask questions. Find out more. Learn as much as you can about a situation, a trend, a project, a risk, or an opportunity.

ALF

Learning to listen starts with recognizing all the barriers we create for ourselves. This is where ALF comes in, and no, we’re not talking about the sitcom character that chased cats. ALF means Always Listen First. Julian Treasure warns us at the beginning of his TED talk that ‘we are losing our listening.’

Don’t lose yours. Listen like a Major League player. And Always Listen First.

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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?

Book Review: Get the most from your meetings

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As so many business people around the world already know, few people are satisfied with the quality of their meetings at work. A recent study in the US found that 50% of managers surveyed considered many meetings to be a “waste of time.”, 90% said most meetings were a failure due to “lack of advanced planning and organization,”and over 75% said that they received no formal training on how to conduct a meeting. To make matters worse, American professionals attend an average of 61.8 meetings per month, and research suggests that 50% of that time is wasted. We can assume that the situation in Europe is similar.

Despite this general feeling of dissatisfaction, meetings are here to stay because they’re still one of the most efficient ways to share information and solve problems at work. However, it’s wrong to think that they’re necessary in every situation, or that they cannot be improved. The question is: if we must have meetings, what concrete steps can we take to guarantee they are effective and efficient in terms of time, effort and money?

Free eBook Download

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Along with our  latest eBook “Keys to effective meetings”, here’s a list of resources you can use to make your meetings more effective.

Facilitation Made Easy: Practical Tips to Improve Meetings and Workshops

Esther Cameron

Facilitation Made Easy is a comprehensive study of the complete process of planning, carrying out and debriefing workshops, conference calls and meetings. In addition to a description of what you need to do, this book also describes why, so you know the theory behind the key factors that make a meeting successful.

Meetings That Work!: A Practical Guide to Shorter and More Productive Meetings

Richard Chang & Kevin Kehoe

Written by consultants with experience working with multinational companies, Meetings That Work! focuses on keeping meetings short, concise and to the point. Examples and techniques are provided that you can put to work in your meetings right away.

Talk Lean: Shorter Meetings. Quicker Results. Better Relations.

Alan Palmer

‘Talk lean’ in this context means to use fewer words and less time to convey your intended message to your audience, while being careful to remain respectful, polite and considerate. The focus in this book is on honing your communication so that you’re always using time in the most efficient way possible.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting

Al Pittampalli

Pittampalli starts with an interesting question: “What can you do to make a difference in your company’s meeting culture that requires no one’s permission but your own?” The emphasis here is on responsibility: when you make changes that work based on your own initiative, others have no choice but to follow your example. One of the more thought-provoking books on meetings and meeting culture, Read This Before Our Next Meeting will challenge you to take personal responsibility for the quality of the meetings you hold.

Boring Meetings Suck: Get More Out of Your Meetings, or Get Out of More Meetings

Jon Petz

If you can’t tell from the title, Boring Meetings Suck is an unconventional and irreverent look at how meetings work and why they sometimes go wrong. Petz takes a humorous approach to some of the more common problems with meetings in companies around the world. The situation becomes less humorous as you realize many of the situations happen in your own organization every day.

Meeting and Event Planning Playbook: Meeting Planning Fundamentals

Debi Scholar &  Susan Losurdo

While it’s written from an administrative assistant’s perspective, the Meeting and Event Planning Playbook can still be useful for the comprehensive view of the meeting planning process it offers. The section “75 Questions to Ask to Plan a Meeting” might come in handy for meetings where you need to make a particularly good impression, like customer visits.