Monday, August 25, 2014

How to be persuasive in meetings

Your ability to persuade others is regularly tested in meetings. I always found them puzzling, perhaps because they aren't rational -- and aren't supposed to be.

You would think that simply presenting an interesting idea, and some rationale for it, would be enough. Nope. That's not even the point.

Meetings are social events. They are about power and hierarchy, and sometimes just fooling around. Many meetings are called just to show the people summoned to them that the person calling them has the power to do so. Many meetings are held, because, you know, "we always meeting Monday." I'm sure that behind many meetings is the stifling boredom pervading most offices and cubicles.

More important than any of the PowerPoints tossed around the room is the body language of the tossers and tossees. If you don't know how to spot the alpha, you won't get groomed.

Watch some videos of gorillas or other primates hanging around and interacting. You can learn a lot about human meetings this way.

With all that cynicism as a backdrop, let me share some thoughts from Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, and Mary Davis Holt, partners at a consulting firm focused on women’s leadership development. Their article in Harvard Business Review addresses women in meetings, but their understanding of these occasions is what I'm interested in here.

For example:
The premeeting. Our research shows that female executives come to meetings on time. They leave as soon as the last agenda item has been completed, rushing off to the next meeting or heading back to their offices to put out fires. We’ve found that men are more likely to spend time connecting with one another to test their ideas and garner support. They arrive at meetings early in order to get a good seat and chat with colleagues, and they stay afterward to close off the discussion and talk about other issues on their minds.
It's a social event. There's more:
Meetings before the meeting. Women need to get in on what several men described as the “meetings before the meetings,” where much of the real work happens. Participating in these informal advance conversations can help clarify the true purpose of a meeting, making it much easier to take an active part in the conversation. Will the group be asked to make a decision? Confirm a consensus? Establish power? It’s often not apparent in the official agenda.
There's more in the article.  Or you can just watch these executives conduct a meeting here.

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