Use Psychology to Craft Better Meetings and Better Culture

Business books are full of advice on how to use personality tests and an understanding of how the brain works to communicate more effectively.

Use Psychology to Craft Better Meetings and Better Culture

Business books are full of advice on how to use personality tests and an understanding of how the brain works to communicate more effectively. Why not take that a step further in designing truly worthwhile meetings? This setting is the ideal place to put psychology to work for you. As you increase the productivity level of your discussions, you’ll contribute to better culture and a more cohesive team.

I hear what you’re
saying ..

Your meeting audience is not there to receive a lecture nor compete to be heard. How can you strike a balance between thoughtful listening and effective speaking? Concentrate on listening to understand.

Best listening practices satisfy a strong human need to be heard. A 2017 Quantum Workplace survey of 500,000 workers found the belief that their views are heard to be the number-one predictor of engagement in their jobs. That tells you how very valuable it is for listeners to confirm they have interpreted a speaker correctly.

The most dynamic meetings include such revealing moments, which just aren’t possible in an I lecture/you listen format. Practice and model strong listening skills, such as repeating back what a speaker has said and asking clarifying questions to nail down meaning. Refrain from undisciplined comments or responses that interrupt the flow of discussion. The moment you open your mouth, you are no longer solely focused on listening, and your co-workers will sense that.

It’s nothing
personal …

Ruffled feathers quickly destroy a meeting dynamic, and they’re a drag on company culture. It’s worthwhile to invest in some sessions devoted solely to meetings themselves. When you practice with the people you will meet with, you’ll all grow more comfortable with confrontation while you get to know each other’s communication styles.

I spoke with author and leadership expert David Marquet to get his take on how to manage bad news and disagreements in a business setting. He suggests role playing as a way to rehearse how to tell people what they don’t want to hear, without it becoming personal. He calls one popular exercise “Designating the Devil.”

Participants take turns playing the devil’s advocate by responding negatively to every aspect of a discussion, no matter the prevailing consensus or overruling by the boss. Choose a basic topic, like casual-dress Fridays, and let the arguments begin! This gives people experience in responding to opposition. Then, when someone gets defensive in a future meeting, you can refer to instances of these civil “debates” as a reminder to focus on the issues, not emotions.

Now, that was
a great meeting!

Many meetings do take place over troubling topics, but that doesn’t mean the tone has to be a downer. In fact, staking a positive claim on your meeting will actually create positive feelings about it. A 2015 psychological study published in Group & Organizational
identifies a “positivity spiral” that is initiated by positive language.

It’s simple: constructive talk encourages similar action. So, even if your debrief is about a problem, your team can discuss it in a positive light by focusing on what went right in a failed initiative, rather than what went wrong. Then you can build on success.

One way to practice this is by encouraging “feedforward,” a term coined by Marshall Goldsmith, PhD. To practice, try pairing off at your next meeting and having each person tell their partner what help or info they need from them going forward. Trade off until everyone has mingled.

This works because no one can criticize what hasn’t yet happened. And the goal is to state what will be a positive influence. Minus the negative impulse, you’re left with new ideas and a spiral of positivity.

This can be a great way to end a meeting. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman relays findings that a pleasant experience following a difficult one eased or erased earlier negative feelings. Ending on a good note sends your team home happy—and preserves that good will in your company’s culture.

Chris Dyer
Chris Dyer

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