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The why, when, where, who, what and how of the meeting agenda

Scott Adam’s Dilbert cartoons capture some of the worst meeting behaviours perfectly. No matter which industry you work in, you’ll run into poorly prepared and badly run meetings. There are a lot of factors which contribute to an effective (or ineffective) meeting and near the top of the list is the agenda. Having a purpose-built agenda for your meeting brings you and your team real benefits. Even just having an agenda sets the right tone. The agenda means that you know what’s happening, once you go to the meeting. Beyond that:

  • Agendas show you expect a productive meeting and not a rambling chat.
  • Time spent planning up front, will increase your chances of delivering results by helping to keep everyone focused.
  • A well thought out and communicated agenda helps people better prepare their thoughts and gather any relevant information they’ll need before the meeting starts.

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So how do you build an effective agenda?

The purpose of the agenda is to explicitly tell participants what they need to prepare and be ready to discuss. An effective agenda needs to answer 5 questions. Starting off with the first and most important …

WHY are we meeting?

Who called the meeting and why? What is the context for the meeting? How does this meeting fit into your broader purpose? Once you’ve thought this through properly you should be able to crystallise this in 20 words or less.  “Team meeting to discuss the changed scope and plan available resources for project XYZ.” The sentence encourages focussed thinking from the very start. Insert the sentence into your agenda, and be ready to recap them when the meeting starts.

WHEN and WHERE are we meeting?

Sounds obvious, and I know many client’s we’ve worked with tend to overlook this under the defence “well the same as always, of course”.  I’d argue that it only costs you seconds to include the meeting place to avoid sarcasm and irony.

WHO needs to be there?

Meetings are only as effective as the people who join (or don’t join) the meeting. Your agenda needs clarity about who will lead, present, or facilitate each point. You’ll also want to be explicit about who needs to be involved or is affected by each point on the agenda. Responsibility assignment matrix system like ARCI can very easily be integrated into your agenda.

Related to this theme, a common question we receive when training meeting facilitation skills is “What if they don’t really need to be there for this item?”. This can lead to wide-ranging discussions and scenarios – and to cut this short here are a couple of ideas to consider…

  • Do you want to reorganise the order of items so that a group of people can leave early? Avoid the ‘join late option’ if possible as the first few minutes is where you’ll review the all-important why.
  • Do you want to give them the option of stepping out for this section? … yet make sure they are back in time for the next item? If yes, then make sure they are next door and not back upstairs or in another building.
  • Do you want to address it as a “development opportunity” directly in the meeting along the lines of “I understand the next point isn’t relevant for you, but I think might help you to build a broader understanding of the project if you stay and listen”?

WHAT are we meeting about?

Describe the “meeting items” so that they are simple and unambiguous… without being meaningless headings.  This is where so many agenda templates fail.  Roger Schwarz’s advice to “List agenda topics as questions the team needs to answer” is a great tip I found while I was writing this blog post.

This part of the agenda also contains information such as:

  • What is the desired outcome?  (make a decision, brief people, discussion, brainstorm)
  • How much time is planned for this point?
  • Who should do what in advance of the meeting?

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HOW can we improve our meetings?

This is a very important, often overlooked part of the agenda. The last building block for any successful meeting agenda should be: Make your meetings even better. Are your meetings too long, too short, too often, too big? Low energy meetings are far less productive, even if you have a great, well prepared agenda. It could be as simple as changing the environment of the meeting. Go outside, meet by the watercooler, meet over lunch, meet over breakfast, have a stand up meeting… Remember, it’s your meeting. Change it when something stops being effective. Regularly plan into your meeting agenda 5 minutes to do a simple review. Effective teams take the time to reflect and learn. Ask yourselves:

  • What did we do well today?
  • What can we improve on?
  • How exactly will we do this?
  • What actionable to dos can we take?

More on this topic

Watch this TED Talk “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings”, by David Grady.

Further reading on our blog

 

Wenn Bullen aneinandergeraten – warum Senior Manager Einfluss nehmen sollten, anstatt Macht auszuüben.

Im vergangenen Jahr haben wir an 3 Führungsprojekten mit Werksleitern in ganz Europa und den USA gearbeitet. In diesen Projekten wurden talentierte operative Führungskräfte am Rande der Beförderung auf eine strategischere Ebene gecoacht. Für viele dieser Manager ist dies ein überraschend schwieriger Sprung. Sie sind nun nicht mehr der einzige “Go-to”-Entscheidungsträger für ihre Teams. Jetzt müssen sie den Input ihrer Vorgesetzten und Kollegen bekommen, um ihre Arbeit zu erledigen. …. sie müssen andere beeinflussen.New Call-to-actionFragen anstatt sagen: der richtige Ansatz beim Beeinflussen

Für Manager mit einem bestimmenden Führungsstil stellt dieser Übergang eine besondere Herausforderung dar, da sie von einem “sagenden” zu einem “fragendem” Ansatz übergehen müssen, um andere zu beeinflussen. Diejenigen, die es gewohnt sind, anderen zu sagen, was sie tun sollen, sind in der Regel mit schnellen Entscheidungen und Sofortmaßnahmen vertraut. Bislang haben sie sich auf ihre “Macht” verlassen…. und waren in ihrer Karriere bisher relativ erfolgreich! Ihre Macht stammt von/aus:

  • Organisationsbefugnis (“Ich bin der Betriebsleiter”)
  • Expertenstatus (“Ich habe 15 Jahre Erfahrung in diesem Bereich”)
  • Informationskraft (“Ich war von Anfang an dabei”)
  • Ausstrahlung (“Ich weiß, dass du mir folgen wirst”)

Tatsächlich ist ein Manager oft so sehr an die Ausübung von Macht gewöhnt, dass er den Unterschied zwischen Macht und Beeinflussung nicht kennt. Ein Teil unserer Rolle im Training besteht darin, Ihnen zu helfen, die greifbaren Unterschiede zwischen “Ich möchte, dass du X machst und du tust es. Was du darüber denkst, ist zweitrangig.” (Macht) und “Ich weiß, dass du tun wirst, was getan werden muss, weil du es tun willst und glaubst, dass es das Richtige ist.” (Beeinflussen).

Wenn Bullen aneinander geraten und warum die Beeinflussung durch Macht aufhört, effektiv zu sein.

Stellen Sie sich zwei Stierbullen vor, die aneinander geraten und ihre Hörner wetzen. So ist es auch, wenn zwei Führungskräfte mit bestimmenden Stilen versuchen, den gleichen operativen Raum zu teilen – es können Probleme auftreten. Während Trainings und Coachings haben wir folgende Ausdrücke öfters gehört: “Er hört mir nicht zu”, “Sie untergräbt meine Expertise” und “Es ist sein Weg oder kein Weg”. Nachdem wir tiefer gebohrt und nachgefragt haben, wie sie versucht haben, andere zu beeinflussen, stellten wir oft fest, dass sie sich nur auf einen bestimmenden oder einen überzeugenden Stil der Beeinflussung (push styles) verlassen – im Gegensatz zu einem kollaborativen oder visionären Stil (pull styles).

Warum verschiedene Beeinflussungsstile wichtig sind

Im Rahmen unseres Training “Beeinflussen und Überzeugen” arbeiten wir mit Kunden zusammen, um ihnen zu helfen, verschiedene “Beeinfluss-Stile” zu verstehen und anzuwenden. Kein Stil ist besser oder schlechter als ein anderer – jeder hat seine Stärken und Schwächen, und jeder findet seinen Platz.  Wie Dale Carnegie jedoch so visuell in How to win friends and influence people beschreibt, ein Stil für jede Situation zu verwenden, ist wie “mit Erdbeeren zu fischen”…. mit anderen Worten ineffektiv und letztlich sinnlos. Da Manager sich auf eine strategischere Rolle zubewegen und in Zusammenarbeit mit anderen Führungskräften Ergebnisse liefern müssen, müssen sie verschiedene Überzeugungs-Stile entwickeln. Sie müssen manchmal “fragen” und nicht nur “sagen” – pull not push. Sie müssen davon loslassen Dinge durch ihre “Macht” allein erledigen zu wollen. Also, was soll man tun?

Hören Sie auf zu “sagen”, fangen Sie an zu “fragen” – 5 praktische Schritte, um andere Führungskräfte zu beeinflussen

Wie Marshall Goldsmith sagte: “Was dich hierher gebracht hat, wird dich nicht dorthin bringen”. Sich nur auf Macht zu verlassen, wird nicht das Engagement liefern, das für den individuellen und organisatorischen Erfolg erforderlich ist. Führungskräfte müssen das Beeinflussen und Überzeugen auf Ihrem Weg nach oben beherrschen.

  • Zu erkennen, dass der Stil und die Methoden, die Sie gewohnt sind, nicht funktionieren, ist ein erster großer Schritt. Diese Erkenntnis kann sich unangenehm anfühlen und manchmal länger auf sich warten lassen!
  • Die Bereitschaft, etwas anderes auszuprobieren, ist der zweite Schritt. Ein einfacher Tipp ist es, immer mehr als eine gute Option zu präsentieren. Wenn Sie versuchen, jemanden zu beeinflussen, der ebenfalls ein bestimmender Typ ist, denken Sie daran, dass er (wie Sie) es nicht schätzt, mit nur einer Option eingekesselt zu werden. Eine einzige Option fühlt sich wie ein Befehl an. Wenn Sie sich selbst sagen hören “Wir müssen…” oder “Unsere einzige wirkliche Option ist…“, bedeutet das, dass Sie sich wahrscheinlich immer noch auf Ihre Macht verlassen.
  • Versetzen Sie sich in die Lage des Anderen und versuchen Sie herauszufinden, was für Ihr Gegenüber wichtig ist, und beziehen Sie es in Ihre Überlegungen ein. Lassen Sie die andere Person wissen, dass Sie versuchen, deren Bezugsrahmen zu verwenden. Wenn Sie deren Interessen nicht kennen und nicht wissen, was sie schätzen, ist es wichtig, es herauszufinden. Lassen Sie ihr Gegenüber wissen, dass dessen Erfolg auch für Sie von Bedeutung ist.
  • Finden Sie heraus, was Sie kontrollieren, beeinflussen und akzeptieren können. Erweitern Sie Ihren Einfluss, indem Sie mehr Überzeugungs-Methoden entwickeln.
  • Und dann überlegen Sie, was Sie sagen und wie Sie es sagen.

Wenn Sie mehr darüber erfahren möchten, wie wir erfolgreich Präsenztrainings und Trainings in virtuellen Vortragsformaten in ganz Europa und darüber hinaus durchgeführt haben, dann zögern Sie nicht, uns zu kontaktieren.

10 weitere sportliche Redewendungen, die Sie in Business Meetings hören werden.

Im vergangenen Jahr haben wir eine Liste von 10 gängigen amerikanischen Sport Redewendungen zusammengestellt, die von unseren Kunden und Lesern gut aufgenommen wurden.  Da der Blog-Post so beliebt war, wollten wir noch weitere Sportbegriffe teilen, die Sie im Büro hören können…

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to take a rain check

Aus dem Baseball, es bedeutet: “Ich kann jetzt nicht, aber machen wir es ein anderes Mal.’.  “Thanks for the invite to happy hour, but can I take a rain check?  I need to get home for dinner with my family.”

a Hail Mary pass

Aus dem American Football, was soviel bedeutet wie “ein verzweifelter Versuch in letzter Minute, etwas zu schaffen”. “We offered the client a 15% reduction in price as a Hail Mary to win their business.”

to touch base (with someone)

Aus dem Baseball, was soviel bedeutet wie “mit jemandem in Kontakt treten”. “Can you touch base with Chester next week to see how he is doing with the forecast numbers?”

a front runner

Aus dem Pferderennen: “die Person, die führend ist, aber noch nicht gewonnen hat”. “I think we are the front runner for the winning the account, but XYZ’s offer was also very strong.”

the ball is in (someone’s) court

Aus dem Tennis: “Es ist jemand an der Reihe, Maßnahmen zu ergreifen oder den nächsten Zug zu machen”. . “I received an offer for a new job.  The ball is now in my court to ask for more money or decline it.”

the home stretch

Aus dem Pferderennsport, d.h.’kurz vor dem Ende sein’ oder ‘in der letzten Phase oder Etappe zu sein’.  “This has certainly been a challenging project, but we are now in the home stretch so let’s stay focussed and keep on schedule.”

to get the ball rolling

Aus Ballsportarten: “etwas anfangen”.. “OK, now we’re all here for today’s meeting let’s get the ball rolling. Heinz, can you start with an update on ….”

to keep your eye on the ball

Aus Ballsportarten: “wachsam, auf der Hut sein”. “We have worked with this client before and we know that they can be chaotic. We need to keep our eyes on the ball, especially when it comes to safety on site.

par for the course

Aus dem Golf, was soviel bedeutet wie “etwas Normales oder Erwartetes”.  ‘Jim was late for the meeting again today.  That is par for the course with him.’

to strike out

Aus dem Baseball: bei etwas zu versagen.  ‘I have tried to get a meeting with the Head of Purchasing 5 times but have struck out each time.’

3 Fragen, die Sie stellen sollten, wenn Sie sich in einer Konfliktsituation befinden.

Es ist Montagmorgen 11 Uhr und du bist auf halbem Weg durch dein wöchentliches Team-Meeting…. und du bist gefangen. Zwei deiner wichtigsten Teamleiter haben gerade begonnen, sich über die gleichen alten Probleme zu streiten. Immer und immer wieder. Du wirst gereizt! Was machst du jetzt? Was sind deine persönlichen Konflikteskalations- oder De-eskalationsmuster? Explodierst du? z.B. “Könnt ihr beide verdammt nochmal endlich die Klappe halten!!!!!!!!!“.  Das ist eine, wenn auch nicht sehr konstruktive Art, damit umzugehen. Würdest du Friedensstifter spielen, z.B. “Wir sind alle im selben Boot und sollten uns gegenseitig unterstützen, oder nicht?” So attraktiv es auch klingt, dieser Ansatz wird den Konflikt tatsächlich eskalieren, indem er versucht, ihn zu verbergen. Oder schiebst du es einfach weg, z.B. “Kümmert Euch draußen darum, nachdem wir fertig sind, ich werde das hier drin nicht tolerieren“. Das ist auch keine “Lösung”, denn sie wird zurückkommen und dich wie einen Bumerang treffen… wahrscheinlich in deinen Rücken. Du bist Teil des Konflikts, ob es dir gefällt oder nicht, und das bedeutet, dass du Teil der Lösung sein musst. Hier sind 3 grundlegende Fragen, die du dir stellen musst…

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Was ist eigentlich genau in diesem Moment los?

Wenn du dich in einer Konfliktsituation befindest, ist es wichtig, dich zu fragen, was tatsächlich passiert? Was ist das “Phänomen”? Die Suche nach dem Phänomen ist enorm wichtig und nicht immer leicht zu finden. Was genau passiert in diesem Moment?

  • Hat es mit mir zu tun, mit meinen Handlungen?
  • Hat das etwas mit den Haushaltsberatungen zu tun, die wir führen?
  • Hat es etwas mit alter Vendetta oder einem Machtkampf zwischen den beiden zu tun?

Das bringt uns zur zweiten Frage…

Wie fühlst du dich in diesem Moment?

Diese Frage klingt einfach genug, kann aber unerwartet schwer zu beantworten sein, wenn wir uns im Konflikt selbst befinden.  Arbeite daran, die Emotionen der Oberfläche zu überwinden und gehe tiefer. Wie fühlst du dich WIRKLICH über das, was passiert? Die Beantwortung dieser 2 Fragen allein erhöht die Chancen, Teil der Lösung zu sein, erheblich. Sie werden dir helfen, den Konflikt konstruktiv zu lösen (die Situation zu de-eskalieren), indem sie dich zwingen, den reflektierenden Teil deines Gehirns (den präfrontalen Kortex) zu benutzen.

So sehr mein Ego auch gerne sagen würde, dass der reflektierende Gehirnteil immer dominant ist, ER IST ES NICHT. Für niemanden von uns. Es ist der neueste Teil des Gehirns, und der am wenigsten dominante. Normalerweise gibt es einen “Highway” von Verbindungen zwischen den drei Gehirnteilen/Schichten, aber in dem Moment, in dem wir uns im Konflikt befinden, verengt sich dieser “Highway” auf eine Einbahnspur, was unsere Konfliktbearbeitungsfähigkeiten ernsthaft beeinträchtigt.

Um nun auf unsere Situation zurückzukommen, die Besprechungssituation mit den Teamleitern: Du stehst jetzt da, und hast den primitiven Teil des Gehirns beruhigt und darüber reflektiert. Es ist an der Zeit, die dritte Frage zu stellen.

Was willst du tun?

Nehmen wir an, du weißt, dass es eigentlich darum geht, dass ein Teamleiter durch einen Mangel an Ressourcen frustriert ist. Er ist enttäuscht von der Situation (und nicht wütend, auch wenn es so aussehen mag). Denke daran, dass seine Wahrnehmung für ihn WIRKLICH ist. Er glaubt, dass die andere Abteilung über alle Ressourcen und die gesamte Anerkennung verfügt. Er hat eine Geschichte in seinem Kopf konstruiert und ist nun in Emotionen gefangen, die nicht unbedingt mit der Situation zusammenhängen.

OK, also was willst du dagegen tun? Das ist die dritte Frage. Die dritte Option. Eine Möglichkeit, zu entscheiden, was zu tun ist, wäre, sich auf die “Wahl der Konfliktstrategie” zu konzentrieren (problem-solving, forcing, avoiding, accommodation). Eine andere könnte die Frage sein, welche “Verhandlungsstrategie” du verwenden wirst?

Die 3 Fragen helfen dir und deinem Gehirn, sein volles Potenzial auszuschöpfen

Durch die Lösung der ersten beiden Fragen wird die Wahl für die dritte Frage, die rationalere sein, egal was du tun willst. Was auch immer du tust, denk daran, dass, wenn du diese beiden Individuen erreichen willst, mit welcher Botschaft auch immer, du den Teilen ihres Gehirns helfen musst, wieder zu kommunizieren (ihren “Highway” wieder zu öffnen). Du musst in kurzen Sätzen sprechen und ihnen helfen zu sehen, was tatsächlich vor sich geht (F1) und wie sie sich im Moment wirklich fühlen (F2). Wie auch immer du dich der Lösung des Konflikts näherst, du kannst jetzt klarer sehen und aktiv entscheiden, hast den Konflikt schnell analysiert und die Kontrolle über deinen Geist bewahrt.

Vielleicht siehst du jetzt einen Bedarf für die laufende Diskussion. Vielleicht ist es mit der Unternehmensstrategie verbunden und dieser Konflikt daher wertvoll. Du könntest dich dafür entscheiden, dem Mitarbeiter die Anerkennung zu geben, nach der er sich sehnt (“Ich bin mir bewusst, dass deine Abteilung sehr unter Druck stand. Ich bin mir auch bewusst, dass dies nichts mit der anderen Abteilung zu tun hat. Lass’ uns eine separate Besprechung abhalten und darüber reden”).

AUFRICHTIG angegangen, hast du das Problem für den Moment gelöst. Du musst, wie versprochen, darauf zurückkommen und es ansprechen, aber zumindest können dich die Manager jetzt hören und an dem bevorstehenden Meeting teilnehmen.

Für weitere Informationen

Target Training bietet seit 15 Jahren eine Reihe von konfliktbezogenen Trainingslösungen an. Dazu gehören “Umgang mit kritischen Konfliktsituationen” und “Konfliktmanagement in virtuellen Teams“. Wir bieten auch Einzel- und Teamcoaching-Lösungen an.

 


Über den Autor

Preben ist ein professioneller Mediator und Konfliktmanager. Sein Schwerpunkt liegt auf menschlichen Interaktionen, wie Management und Führung, interkulturelle Beziehungen und zwischenmenschliche Kommunikation. Bis vor kurzem war er ein willkommener Teil von Target Training und arbeitet heute für eine große europäische Institution. In seinem Privatleben liebt er Karate, Wandern und Klettern.

Konflikte lösen – die 3 Fragen in die Praxis umsetzen

Konflikt ist ein unvermeidlicher Teil jeder Beziehung. In einem kürzlich veröffentlichten Beitrag habe ich 3 Fragen geteilt, die man sich in einer Konfliktsituation stellen sollte. Ich weiß, dass das Leben nicht so linear ist wie ein Blogbeitrag und “3 Fragen” allzu einfach erscheinen können.  Also, möchte ich Ihnen anhand eines persönlichen Beispiels in diesem Beitrag mitteilen, wie die Fragen in der realen Welt aussehen.

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Der Hintergrund & die Situation

Ich arbeite als Konfliktmediator für eine große EU-Institution und wurde kürzlich gebeten, in ein afrikanisches Land zu reisen. Ich wurde gebeten, zwischen einer Regierungsstelle auf der einen Seite und einer großen Gruppe von Einzelpersonen aus einer sehr armen Gemeinschaft auf der anderen Seite zu vermitteln. Ich war den ganzen Weg aus Luxemburg gereist und als ich ankam, habe ich ein Treffen mit allen Einzelpersonen dieser lokalen Gemeinschaft vereinbart. Ich wollte herausfinden, was vor sich ging, worum es bei dem Konflikt ging und viel mehr über die Geschichte hinter diesem Konflikt, die Interessen der Menschen usw. erfahren. Mit anderen Worten, ich wollte das F1 herausfinden. Was war eigentlich genau in diesem Moment los?

Es war Dienstagmorgen, ich war weit gereist und ziemlich müde.  Ich war es nicht gerade gewohnt, in einem solchen Gebiet zu leben oder gar zu sein – Slums wäre das Wort, das viele Menschen aus dem Westen benutzen würden – Polizei- und Armeekontrollpunkte mit Maschinengewehren, die in meine Richtung zeigen, in einem heißen Taxi sitzen und Bestechungsgelder aushändigen. Zusammen machten mich all diese Dinge nervös. Ich war definitiv auf unbekanntem Terrain und etwas angespannt…. und es war NIEMAND beim Meeting. Nun gut, es waren zwei Leute da, aber ich hatte hundert plus erwartet! Meine Gedanken waren: “Kommt schon, Ihr wart diejenigen, die diesen GROSSEN Konflikt von mir und meiner Organisation gelöst haben wolltet. Ihr sagtet, Ihr wünscht Euch eine Lösung, also sind wir gekommen, und jetzt seid Ihr nicht einmal hier! Wenn diese Lethargie typisch für diese Gemeinschaft ist, konnte ich ja kaum überrascht sein von dem destruktiven Verhalten der lokalen Behörden!

Ich fing an, mich zu ärgern, wütend zu werden, und ich konnte spüren, wie der Frust wuchs. Also atmete ich bewusst tief durch, versuchte, meinen Kopf frei zu bekommen und stellte mir zwei Fragen – F1 Was war los? und F2 Wie fühlte ich mich?

Sich selbst zu verstehen ist die Grundlage für die Lösung von Konflikten

Das erste, was mir in den Sinn kam, war: “Wenn ich nach Europa zurückkehre und wir überhaupt keine Fortschritte gemacht haben, um zu versuchen, diesen Konflikt zu lösen, wird mein Ruf und möglicherweise meine Karriere in Gefahr sein.”  Mit anderen Worten, ich erlebte Angst. Die zweite Sache, die mir durch den Kopf ging, ist: “Ich bin ziemlich wütend. Ich habe Zeit damit verbracht, hierher zu kommen, und Ihr seid nicht einmal hier! Was für ein Respekt oder Mangel an Respekt ist das?

Ich dachte, dass ich die erste und zweite Frage beantwortet hatte, wusste aber, dass etwas fehlte. Was habe ich wirklich davon gehalten? Nun, in diesem Moment hatte ich Angst um meine persönliche Karriere UND ich dachte, ich wäre wütend, weil ich das Gefühl hatte, dass die Einheimischen mich und meine Bemühungen nicht respektierten. Ich stellte mir die Frage noch einmal und versuchte,  genauer in mich hinein zuhören. Wütend war, wie ich mich verhielt, aber als ich die Dinge mehr durchdachte, wurde mir klar, dass die eigentliche Emotion für mich in dieser Situation eher wie eine Enttäuschung war. Ich wollte helfen und hatte mehr erwartet.

ABER, haben mir die obigen Überlegungen und Emotionen wirklich ein Bild davon vermittelt, worum es in diesem kleinen “Meeting-Konflikt” ging? Nein, hat es nicht!

Die Bedeutung von Kultur in Konflikten

Ich schaute mir noch einmal an, was vor sich ging…. Eine Sitzung wurde einberufen. Die Leute kamen zu spät, aber andererseits ist es Afrika! Sie liefen nach “afrikanischer Zeit” und ich nach “europäischer Zeit”.  Es war also weder persönlich noch ein Zeichen oder eine Ablehnung der Mediation. Wir kamen nur aus zwei verschiedenen Kulturen, mit unterschiedlichen Erwartungen an Zeit und Pünktlichkeit. Was das Risiko meiner Karriere betrifft: Nun, das ist ein systemisches Risiko. Es ist immer da, aber hat nichts mit dem vorliegenden Pünktlichkeitskonflikt zu tun. Ich hatte 2 von 100 Leuten für ein Meeting da. Das war ein Konflikt, denn zwei von 100 waren nicht in der Lage, mir ein brauchbares und vollständiges Bild des Konflikts zu vermitteln, noch konnten sie als Vertreter der lokalen Gemeinschaft angesehen werden, die für die Wirksamkeit der Mediation erforderlich war. Dieser Konflikt war jedoch keineswegs mit einem systemischen Risiko zu Hause verbunden. Was das mögliche Verhalten der lokalen Behörden betrifft, so stand das auch nicht im Zusammenhang mit dem Konflikt, der gerade jetzt stattfindet. Das war die Norm.

Mein Gehirn begann wieder zu funktionieren …

Managen Sie Ihre 3 Gehirne, damit sie zusammenarbeiten

Einfach ausgedrückt, ist unser Gehirn in drei Teile geteilt, den Neokortex (der reflektierende und analytische Teil und auch der neueste Teil), das Limbische System (der emotionale Teil, der durch unsere Emotionen erfahren wird) und den Hirnstamm (manchmal auch der Reptilienteil genannt, der den Kampf- oder Fluchtinstinkt steuert). Indem ich mich zwinge, mir die beiden Fragen zu stellen und sie mir erneut zu stellen (Was geht eigentlich vor sich, genau in diesem Moment?, und wie fühlst du dich in diesem Moment?), hatte ich mich selbst “de-eskaliert”. Ich hatte meinem sich abmühenden Gehirn geholfen, als Ganzes zu arbeiten und nicht in den unteren Gehirnteilen stecken zu bleiben. Ich konnte mich beruhigen, damit ich mich effektiv in das Meeting einbringen konnte… als es endlich begann.

Übrigens sind die Leute tatsächlich aufgetaucht. Nach eineinhalb Stunden!

Nun stellte sich noch die letzte Frage… Wie sollte ich den Konflikt lösen?

Für weitere Informationen

Target Training bietet seit 15 Jahren eine Reihe von konfliktbezogenen Trainingslösungen an. Dazu gehören “Umgang mit kritischen Konfliktsituationen” und “Konfliktmanagement in virtuellen Teams“. Wir bieten auch Einzel- und Teamcoaching-Lösungen an.


Über den Autor

Preben ist ein professioneller Mediator und Konfliktmanager. Sein Schwerpunkt liegt auf menschlichen Interaktionen, wie Management und Führung, interkulturelle Beziehungen und zwischenmenschliche Kommunikation. Bis vor kurzem war er ein willkommener Teil von Target Training und arbeitet heute für eine große europäische Institution. In seinem Privatleben liebt er Karate, Wandern und Klettern.

Virtuelle Meetings: Dos and Don’ts

Stellen Sie sicher, dass Ihre virtuellen Meetings produktiv sind

Virtuelle Meetings können manchmal knifflig sein. Sind sie eher wie ein Telefonat oder ein persönliches Treffen? Nun, sie sind eine Kombination aus beidem und sollten unterschiedlich behandelt werden. Hier sind einige schnelle und einfache “Dos and Don’ts” für virtuelle Meetings.

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Virtuelle Meetings: “Dos”

  • Stellen Sie sicher, dass alle Beteiligten, die für die Erreichung der Ziele von wesentlicher Bedeutung sind, anwesend sind – ansonsten vereinbaren Sie einen neuen Termin.
  • Seien Sie flexibel mit der Besprechungszeit damit Mitarbeiter in anderen Zeitzonen ebenfalls teilnehmen können.
  • Erstellen Sie eine Agenda, die die Ziele des Meetings beschreibt.
  • Stellen Sie sicher, dass die Besprechungspunkte/Prioritäten/Zeiten mit den Besprechungszielen übereinstimmen.
  • Sagen Sie ein regelmäßig stattfindendes Meeting ab, wenn Sie der Meinung sind, dass die Zeit besser anderweitig genutzt werden könnte.
  • Senden Sie mindestens drei Tage vor dem Meeting eine Erinnerung mit der Tagesordnung, den benötigten Materialien und Informationen über die zu verwendende Technologie.
  • Stellen Sie sicher, dass alle am Meeting teilnehmen und mitwirken
  • Eliminieren Sie Ablenkungen: Schalten Sie alle Smartphones aus und vermeiden Sie E-Mails und Instant Messaging während des Meetings.
  • Machen Sie Nebengespräche über ein Thema zur offiziellen Funktion des Treffens.
  • Entscheidungen und weitere Schritte dokumentieren

Virtuelle Meetings “Don’ts”

  • Halten Sie keine Besprechung ab, wenn Sie die Frage “Was ist der Zweck und das erwartete Ergebnis?” nicht eindeutig beantworten können.
  • Treffen nicht zur “Gewohnheit” werden lassen
  • Versuchen Sie nicht, mehr als fünf spezifische Punkte pro Sitzung abzudecken.
  • Lassen Sie weder Nebensächlichkeiten, “Experten” oder Muttersprachler das Meeting dominieren.
  • Halten Sie keine Sitzung, wenn die für die Ziele der Sitzung wesentlichen Interessengruppen nicht teilnehmen können.
  • Nehmen Sie nicht an, dass die Teammitglieder sich über ihre Rolle und die Ziele des Meetings im Klaren sind.
  • Halten Sie keine kontinuierlichen “Marathon”-Sitzungen ohne Brainstorming oder Pausen in kleinen Gruppen
  • Behandeln Sie kritische Themen nicht zu Beginn des Meetings
  • Lassen Sie die Besprechung nicht aus dem Ruder laufen, indem Sie die Details einer Aktion besprechen, die für die Ziele der Besprechung nicht relevant sind.
  • Fangen Sie nicht später an

Mehr Tipps zu virtuellen Teams?

Diese Dos and Don’ts sind nur eine kleine Auswahl der Tipps in unserem neuesten Ebook: The ultimate book of Virtual Teams checklists. Stellen Sie sicher, dass Sie eine Kopie herunterladen, wenn Sie daran interessiert sind, die Wirkung Ihres virtuellen Teams zu maximieren. Viel Spaß beim Lesen und…. lassen Sie uns wissen, was für Ihr virtuelles Team funktioniert!!

Buchbesprechung: 5 tolle Bücher zur Leistungssteigerung Ihrer virtuellen Teams

Wie wir von vielen unserer Teilnehmer in unseren virtuellen Teamseminaren gehört haben, sind die Herausforderungen von virtuellen Teams ähnlich wie die von Face-to-Face-Teams, nur  nochmal vergrößert. Hinzu kommen neue Herausforderungen, wie z.B. die Auswirkungen des fehlenden sozialen Kontakts, der die Teams zusammenhält, oder die Anpassung der richtigen Technologie an die richtige Aufgabe. Die unten aufgeführten Quellen helfen uns weiterhin, uns auf praktische Lösungen für die realen Probleme und Möglichkeiten virtueller Teams zu konzentrieren. Wir hoffen, dass sie Ihnen auch in einer virtuellen Umgebung zum Erfolg verhelfen.

VTchecklists

Free eBook download

Virtual Team Success

von Darleen Derosa & Richard Lepsinger

Dieses forschungsbasierte Buch ist eine Zusammenstellung von praktischen Ansätzen für virtuelles Teaming. Das Buch enthält eine Reihe hilfreicher Checklisten und Best Practices, die als Leitfaden für virtuelle Teamleiter und Teilnehmer dienen können. Der Verhaltensfokus von Virtual Team Success wird Ihnen helfen, Probleme zu überwinden, bevor sie auftreten, und zwar mit einer sachlichen Beratung, die auf echtem Erfolg basiert. Wenn Sie die Investition von Zeit, Energie und Ressourcen zur Verbesserung Ihrer virtuellen Teams rechtfertigen müssen, hilft Ihnen dieses Buch dabei. Die Prozesse zur Lösung gemeinsamer Probleme in virtuellen Teams sind ein Highlight.

Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies Tools and Techniques that Succeed

von Deborah Duarte & Nancy Snyder

Die Autoren von Mastering Virtual Teams haben Best Practices, Tools und Techniken aus der Teamtheorie und dem Informations- und Wissensmanagement auf die Herausforderungen virtueller Teams angewandt. Sie haben die Informationen in drei leicht verständliche Bereiche gegliedert: Virtuelle Teams verstehen, erstellen und beherrschen. Ihre große praktische Erfahrung als Professoren, Berater und Wirtschaftsführer prägen den “how to”-Ansatz des Buches. Das Buch bietet ein Toolkit für Teilnehmer, Führungskräfte und Manager virtueller Teams. Praktische Werkzeuge, Übungen, Einsichten und Beispiele aus der Praxis helfen Ihnen, die Dynamik der virtuellen Teambeteiligung mit Richtlinien, Strategien und Best Practices für interkulturelles und funktionsübergreifendes Arbeiten zu meistern. Statt einfach nur “Vertrauen aufbauen” zu sagen, geben uns die Autoren beispielsweise drei allgemeine Richtlinien für den Aufbau von Vertrauen in einer virtuellen Umgebung an. Kein Wunder, dass diese Faktoren auch in zusammengesetzten Teams funktionieren. Sie haben eine CD-Rom mit der dritten Ausgabe beigefügt – eine einfache Möglichkeit, die Checklisten und hilfreichen Dokumente aus dem Buch auszudrucken.

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace

von Terrence Brake

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace folgt den Heldentaten von Will Williams, der seinen Weg in einen virtuellen Arbeitsplatz und das Leben eines jungen Berufstätigen in London geht. Als Erzählung, die die Best Practices virtueller Organisationen und Teams verwebt, hilft das Buch dem Leser, Schritt für Schritte, Seite für Seite mitzugehen und Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace nicht nur als Ressourcendokument zu verwenden. Das Buch ist weit mehr als nur ein unterhaltsamer Blick auf das digitale Leben. Der sehr detaillierte Anhang des Buches bietet recherchierte Unterstützung für die in der Geschichte hervorgehobenen virtuellen Strukturen und Werkzeuge. Die 6 C’s der globalen Zusammenarbeit von Brake bieten einen logischen Rahmen für die Bedürfnisse effektiver virtueller Teams.

Leading Virtual Teams

Harvard Business School Publishing

Leading Virtual Teams ist eine schnelle und einfache Anleitung für diejenigen, die nicht überzeugt werden müssen, ihre virtuellen Teams zu verbessern, sonder lediglich Tipps dafür brauchen. Das Buch behandelt die Grundlagen für diejenigen, die ihre ersten Erfahrungen mit führenden virtuellen Teams machen. Es gibt Hinweise auf verwandte Harvard Business Publikationen, eine Erwähnung des Harvard Erweiterungskurses zum Thema Managing Virtual Teams, der virtuell unterrichtet wird, und einen kurzen Test als Check-on-Learning.

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games

von Mary Scannell & Michael Abrams

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games füllt einen aktuellen Entwicklungsbedarf für viele virtuelle Teams mit Spielen, die den Aufbau von Beziehungen, die Lösung von Problemen und Teamfähigkeiten fördern. Die Spiele sind so konzipiert, dass sie mit verschiedenen virtuellen Teamplattformen gespielt werden können und sind geschickt nach Tuckmans Stadien der Teamentwicklung – forming, storming, norming, performing, sowie dem zusätzlichen Stadium transforming – angeordnet. Jedes Spiel wird ausführlich mit der ungefähren Zeit für die Fertigstellung beschrieben. Beachten Sie, dass Teams mit Mitgliedern, die eine Nicht-Muttersprache verwenden, etwas länger dauern können, als vorhergesagt.

 

Virtuelle Team-Meetings: Empathie und Rapport aufbauen

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:

Ort

  • F: Von wo aus sprechen Sie gerade?
  • A: Ich bin an meinem Schreibtisch. Wie ist es bei Ihnen?

Wetter

  • F: Wie ist das Wetter bei Ihnen? Bei uns ist es ziemlich düster!
  • A: Wir haben blauen Himmel und Sonnenschein. Hoffentlich kommt das bald zu Ihnen rüber!

Einloggen

  • F: Wie haben Sie sich eingeloggt? Ich hatte ein paar Probleme.
  • A: Es hat gut geklappt. Welche Probleme hatten Sie?

Tonqualität

  • F: Können Sie mich gut hören?
  • A: Tut mir leid, es ist etwas leise. Könnten Sie lauter sprechen?

Verbindungsqualität

  • F: Ich kämpfe hier mit einer ernsthaften Verzögerung. Wie ist es bei Ihnen?
  • A: Bei mir klappt es gut. Vielleicht ist es Ihre Internetverbindung?

Arbeit

  • F: Wie läuft es momentan im Marketing?
  • A: Ach, Sie wissen doch, beschäftigt wie immer. Wie sieht es in Ihrer Abteilung aus?

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.

 

Watch, listen and learn: 3 great TEDx talks on listening

Many of our communication skills seminars involve practical listening activities, and occasionally we get requests solely for listening skills. But it’s arguably wrong to see listening as one of many “communication skills” – listening is so much more fundamental than that. Listening builds trust, strengthens relationships, and resolves conflicts. It’s fundamental in everything we do. In a HBR article “the discipline of listening”, Ram Charan shared what many of us already know: Not every manager is a great listener. Charan’s own “knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four leaders has a listening deficit, “the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” Good managers need to know how to listen – and great managers know how to listen well. And because we know you’re busy we’ve taken the time to find 3 TEDx talks for you listen to.

New Call-to-actionThe power of listening with William Ury

William Ury is the co-author of “Getting to Yes”, the bestselling negotiation book in the world. This is a great video exploring what genuine listening really is, why it’s so important and how to take our first steps to improving our listening.  He explains why he feels that listening is “the golden key to opening doors to human relationships” and why the skill of listening needs to be actively practiced every day. Ury uses stories of conversations with presidents and business leaders to show the simple power of listening: how it helps us understand the other person, how it helps us connect and build rapport and trust, and how it makes it more likely that you’ll be listened to too.

 

The Power of Deliberate Listening with Ronnie Polaneczky

Grabbing our attention with the shocking story of an angry reader, journalist Ronnie Polaneczky expands on why we need to consciously and actively practice our “listening muscle”. By practicing deliberate listening and putting aside our own judgements we can discover things we don’t know that we don’t know.  She moves beyond the obvious “techniques” (e.g. look them in the eye, nod your head and repeat back what you’ve heard) and challenges us to think about letting go of positions (e.g. “I want to be right”) and embracing learning – letting go of our need to judge. She closes with the personal impact listening has – it doesn’t just change the person being listened to – it changes the listener.

A Case for Active Listening with Jason Chare

You may find this talk far removed from a business environment, but active listening skills are essential for those managers wanting to build a coaching approach. Jason Chare, a professional counselor, shares his experiences with an audience of teachers.  The second half (around the ninth minute) begins to look at specific strategies and attitudes – especially the importance of unconditional positive regard and listening with empathy.  Check out this article on “Three ways leaders can listen with more empathy” too!

More listening resources for you …

And if you’d like to know more about how you can further develop your or your team’s listening skills then please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to listen to you.

The importance of asking investigative questions in negotiations – and how to do this in English

There are times in negotiations when we can be too focused on our own position. If we want to get the best outcome then we need to find out why the other side asks what it asks, offers what it offers, and wants what it wants. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by adopting an “investigative mindset” – and then actively listening to what is (or is not) said. Harvard Business School Professors Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman set out 5 key principles that underpin this method. This post provides a simple overview of the 5 principles, offers useful phrases for those looking to further improve their business English, and closes with some great suggestions for further reading.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

 

Find out what your counterparts want – and why they want it

Asking questions to uncover needs and priorities is essential in any negotiation.  The sooner you can find out what your counterparts wants AND WHY they want it, the sooner you can build solutions. Malhotra and Bazerman give the example of an US pharmaceutical company  negotiating exclusive rights for an ingredient from a small European supplier. Despite the pharma company’s best offers, the supplier refused to agree to exclusivity. It was clear the smaller company had no chance of securing such a large order from any other customer – so what was going on?

With the negotiation in deadlock the American negotiator decided to ask a simple question “Why wouldn’t they grant exclusivity?” The reason was equally simple – the supplier was selling a small amount of the ingredient to a family member who needed it to manufacture a product sold locally. A new offer was made and quickly accepted – the European firm would provide exclusivity except for a small annual amount for the supplier’s cousin.

Discover your counterparts’ constraints – and then help them relieve them

Whenever we go into a negotiation we always have limits. In fact having your BATNA clear up front is a must if you don’t want to leave the negotiation with regrets. These limits are influenced and/or restricted by external forces – pricing, strategy, risk, relationships etc. And just as you have limits, so does your counterpart.  When your counterpart’s limits seem to be unreasonable or rigid, ask investigative questions to better understand what is behind the scenes. What is going on? Why is somebody responding like that? How can you help them remove their constraints or concerns?

Understand what is behind a demand – and then look to interpret them as opportunities

When our negotiating partner makes “excessive demands” we feel attacked and can become defensive. We then focus on either avoiding, mitigating, or even combatting this demand. The response of an investigative negotiator is to understand what is behind the demand and what they can actually learn from it. How can they reframe the demand from a threat to an opportunity? Malhotra and Bazerman article illustrates this nicely with the story of a construction company closing a major deal. Just before the deal was closed the property developer introduced a game-changing penalty clause for late completion.  In this case, reframing looked like “why was this penalty clause so important?” which led to “ timely completion was hugely important” which then led to “was the developer interested in completion ahead of schedule?“ . The negotiation concluded with the construction company agreeing to pay higher penalties than proposed and with a sizable bonus for early completion.

Look to create common ground

Despite the pervasive mantras of “partnership” and “win-win”, too often when we are in a negotiation it we end up with “”sides”. My side and your side, you are my competitor etc …This means that we miss out on opportunities to create value. Investigative negotiators focus on genuinely exploring areas of mutual interest to find real common ground.  This can be especially important when negotiating across cultures.

When things don’t work out keep on investigating

Even after rejection, there is nothing to be lost, and actually much to be gained, by asking “What would it have taken for us to reach agreement?” or “Can you explain to me why we lost this business? … as I’d like to learn for next time”.  It is much easier to get unguarded information when there is no deal to be done. If you don’t know what went wrong, how can you improve your approach in similar future negotiations? And of course there is always a chance of actually reopening negotiations based on the new insight.

Useful language and further reading for negotiators

 As Deepak Malhotra wrote “In the end, negotiation is an information game. Those who know how to obtain information perform better than those who stick with what they know.”

Using investigative questions

  • What is important to you?
  • Why is this important?
  • What is it you need?
  • Which part of my suggestion can you accept? Not accept?  And why?
  • Why can/can’t you ?

Building and practising active listening skills

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.

How good are your listening skills?

Books on negotiations

  • Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond (Malhotra and Bazerman)
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It (Chris Voss)
  • Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations: Negotiating with Difficult People (Ury)
  • and the sequel Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in (Fisher and Ury)

Finally, as a training company, you just know we’re going to suggest organizing negotiation training for yourself or your team.

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.

 

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:

 

 

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, 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.

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.

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“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.