Meeting Leadership – Respect and Listening

In the past month I have attended numerous meetings – school board, work and family.  Many of these meetings have gone really well where there was a high degree of respect for each participant, a focus on listening and understanding, and an effort by all to achieve synergistic solutions.  Some have not gone so well, when we stepped on each other’s sentences, interrupted the other person before he finished his thought, monopolized the conversation and raised our voices to talk over one of the participants.  I thought a lot about why certain meetings went so well and why others did not.  It really came down to listening and respect, and reminded me of the Indian Talking Stick concept author and leadership authority Stephen R. Covey describes in his book The 8th Habit.

In The 8th Habit Covey describes an experience he had training Indian chiefs and they gave him a Talking Stick as a gift.  He describes the concept, “Whenever people meet together, the Talking Stick is present.  Only the person holding the Talking Stick is permitted to speak.  As long as you have the Talking Stick, you alone may speak, until you are satisfied that you are understood.  Others are not permitted to make their own points, argue, agree or disagree.  All they may do is attempt to understand you and then articulate that understanding…As soon as you feel understood, it is your obligation to pass the Talking Stick to the next person and then to work to make him feel understood.”  I have never had a Talking Stick present at one of my meetings, but in some it was clear that the concept of listening with the intent to understand, and respect and value for the other person’s opinion was present.  In others, we desperately needed an actual stick.  I am as guilty as the next person in not taking time to listen with the intent to understand, and to be quick to interrupt and interject my points. 

As a leader at Cameron-Brooks, on the school board and in my family, I owe it to the others to demonstrate genuine respect and value their input.  I have been reading and also reflecting on what I can do to better facilitate more effective meetings so all feel valued, and ultimately everyone gets their ideas out and the best solutions are agreed upon. 

The following are my action steps and these steps can be used by junior military officers and Cameron-Brooks alumni alike.

1.  Prepare for every meeting.  I ensure I clearly understand the goal of the meeting and who will attend.  I study the agenda ahead of time and write down notes of ideas I may already have.

2.  I approach the meeting with belief that the best solutions are not necessarily mine, and may not even be the other people’s either.  In fact, the best solutions may be those that combine ideas or emerge from dialogue about other ideas.  I learned this from The 8th Habit as well.

 3.  I take notes during the meeting and make eye contact with those who are speaking.  I am not perfect at this but I know it is important because this demonstrates respect.

 4.  When I notice others are not speaking up or involved, I ask them questions to draw them into the meeting.  In the past, I have been afraid to share my ideas because I did not feel as smart as the others or I was afraid someone would criticize me.  I always appreciated when someone asked me for my thoughts.

5.  When frustrations and voices rise, I remember that if my frustration and the volume of my voice increase it only adds fuel to the fire.  I am better off bringing some “cool water” to calm things.  First, I try to keep a calm voice and facial expression and slow my speech.  Second, I will seek to understand why the other person is agitated.  Simply acknowledging the other person brings calm back to the meeting.  I have learned the hard way that pushing back and going toe to toe is rarely productive.

6.  I volunteer for assignments.  Most meetings end with required actions to implement meeting points.  I set the example by assuming responsibility for some of them.  I cannot expect my teammates to volunteer if I do not.

7.  When others become negative during the meeting or bring down others with comments, I am going to address this.  Notice, I said I am going to address this.  I have failed my other team members in the past by not addressing these behaviors.  It has brought them down to the point where they no longer want to be in meetings or contribute. 

I am sure there are numerous books available on how to conduct meetings.  My two favorite for demonstrating respect and listening to others are The 8th Habit by Stephen R. Covey and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.

Joel Junker