The endless cycle of meetings that make up the modern working week can feel like the biggest waste of your time possible. Author Paul Axtell has some tips that might help make them feel more worthwhile.
While meetings are part and parcel of day-to-day working life, some of us get into the habit of going into them without a clear objective. We turn up and wait until we are spoken to. Once we have said our piece, we struggle to pay attention from that point onwards, then we walk away, not sure where the past hour went or what we gained from it.
In doing this, however, we waste our own precious time. Time that could be spent learning from others, as well as sharing our own unique insights. Time that could be spent clarifying business objectives and turning them into actions.
Taking this into consideration, how do you readjust your approach, and get more value – and contribute more value – to the meetings you attend?
Practise focused listening
Focused listening will help you to strengthen your professional relationships and get more from your meetings. It has several components, which include paying attention, having patience and being non-judgemental.
- Pay attention
Go into every meeting prepared to devote yourself to each person in the conversation. This level of attention will always add value to your meetings – to all of your conversations, in fact, inside and outside of work. As you focus on listening in meetings, you will notice that most people end up speaking directly to you and making more eye contact, because they naturally move their focus to the person paying attention to them.
In an age of multitasking and digital distractions around every corner, you might be the only person in the room truly listening and being attentive to others in the meeting.
- Be patient
When listening, set aside your impulse to jump into the conversation. Wait for the other person to finish. There will be plenty of time to ask a question or make a comment when the other person is finished. Slow down and stop anticipating when you might get a chance to speak. Here’s the hard part: don’t step in when there’s a pause. Wait and see if the speaker has something more to add.
- Be non-judgemental
The human mind is wired to make lightning-fast judgements about other people, especially people we don’t know. Being judgemental often gets in the way of good communication.
There are ways to keep this judgemental mechanism at bay: remind yourself that the other person’s views are as legitimate as yours, give them the benefit of the doubt, assume positive intent. When these negative thoughts do occur, notice them, but then set them aside and intentionally refocus on listening for clarity, understanding and value.
In doing the above, you will give your colleagues the experience of actually being heard, which enhances everyone’s experience of speaking and sharing during meetings.
Practice focused speaking
Focused speaking will cut down time spent in meetings, keep the conversations on track and make your views clear to everyone else in the room. Focused speaking involves the following elements.
- Be clear
Being clear requires you to be specific – as opposed to vague – in what you are saying. For example, it’s easy to compliment someone on doing a good job, but it’s far more impactful to list three specific things you liked about what they did. To help ensure clarity, give people permission to ask questions if they are not clear.
- Be concise
Get to the point quickly. When you speak, let people know what is coming. For example, say, ‘I have two points to make’, then state each point briefly, providing only enough explanation to achieve clarity. Adding unnecessary examples wastes time and can be misconstrued as being defensive.
- Keep it relevant
This means making sure your remarks add value to the topic being discussed. Before speaking, ask yourself, ‘Will what I want to say move the conversation ahead? Am I making a point or providing content that relates directly to the issue at hand?’ Learn to recognise when – even though you have something more to say – it just doesn’t add any value to say it.
- Be respectful
When talking to others, be courteous. Use people’s names. Even if disagreeing with someone, make sure you understand the other point of view, and look for the value in that perspective. Your views might be received more readily if others can see that you have an open mind. If your intent is to be respectful, it will also be reflected in your tone of voice.
Be clear on outcomes and process
At the end of the meeting, check to see if you are clear about what outcomes are expected from the conversation. If you are not clear, it’s likely others are not. Ask for clarification on what is expected, from whom, and by when. Commit to specific actions, and make sure you deliver on these expectations ahead of the next meeting.
Get into the habit now of making the most of all the meetings in your diary, doing all you can to listen to others, share your insights and achieve specific outcomes. You will soon start to see these sessions as an opportunity for knowledge-sharing and reaching common goals, as opposed to an hour of your day wasted.
By Paul Axtell
Paul Axtell is an author, speaker and corporate trainer. He wrote two award-winning books: 10 Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids and Meetings Matter. He has developed a training series, Being Remarkable, which is designed to be led by managers and HR specialists.
A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.