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BY Cameron-Brooks

Meeting Etiquette :: Seven Steps to Leading Effective Meetings

As the world starts to open back up, communication continues to be key. Some teams have elected to continue remote work, others have started carefully returning to office life. And, as teams try to stay connected (either via video conferencing or socially distant gatherings), leadership within team meetings and meeting etiquette remain of the utmost importance.

This article was originally published in 2010. It has been updated as we believe in it’s continued relevance. 

Meetings are a large part of our everyday lives, whether they be work related, family related or volunteer related. Ideally, these meetings operate smoothly with a high degree of respect for each participant, a focus on listening and understanding, and an effort by all to achieve synergistic solutions. Some don’t always go so well when participants step on each other’s sentences, interrupt, monopolize the conversation and/or raise voices. I thought a lot about why certain meetings went so well and why others did not. It really came down to listening and respect, which reminded me of the 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.” This exercise can help establish proper meeting etiquette, establishing boundaries and encouraging active listening.

I have never had a Talking Stick present at one of my meetings. However, it became clear that the proverbial “talking stick” was present in the meetings where the concept of listening with the intent to understand, respect, and value for the other person’s opinion was present. In other meetings, 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 being quick to interrupt and interject my points.

As a leader at Cameron-Brooks, on the school board, and within my family, I owe it to others to demonstrate genuine respect and value for their input. I have been reading and reflecting on what I can do to better facilitate more effective meetings so all participants feel valued. We ultimately want everyone to share their ideas so we can achieve the best solutions.

The following are seven action steps to help facilitate meetings smoothly as a leader and keep up proper meeting etiquette. These steps can be used by junior military officers and Cameron-Brooks alumni alike.

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

2. Approach the meeting with belief that the best solutions are not necessarily yours (and they may not come from other people’s ideas 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. Take notes during the meeting and make eye contact with those who are speaking. I am not perfect at this, but I consider this action important as it demonstrates respect.

4. When you notice others are not speaking up or involved, 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 of criticism. I always appreciated when someone asked me for my thoughts.

5. When frustrations and voices rise, remember that these emotions and voice inflections can add 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 then slow my speech. Second, I 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. 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, address it directly. Notice, I take personal responsibility for correcting the situation. I have failed 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. Addressing it directly encourages open and respectful communication.

I hope these tips prove helpful as you continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of business communication. I am sure there are numerous books available on leadership and meeting etiquette. 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. You can utilize our FacebookLinkedInInstagram, and Twitter pages as well as our Blog to access ongoing career advice and business news.