Many of the challenges we face at work and in our personal life when interacting with other people are about communication.
When I want to transmit a message to Sara, I first code that message into words. That “coding” happens in my own little bubble, in my own context. My context can be a hectic day with 30 things to complete, multitasking in the middle of a gray winter day.
Then the message goes out through some channel (face-to-face, video, phone, email, etc). Sara receives the message and decodes it, in her own context, in her own view of the world. That context can be very different from mine, say a sunny and warm day right after a big success at work.
Seeing all the steps a message goes through to get from one person to the other, it is no wonder that communication goes awry so often. Let’s imagine that I send Sara an email saying “Please send report when you can. It’s not urgent”. In my context, not urgent might mean that the report can wait until tomorrow. Sara might read my message, and in her own context think that it’s ok to send the report by next week.
That’s why we’ve decided to do a little saga of blog posts on how to improve communication. I hope some of these strategies will be useful for you!
Episode 1: Prep for your meetings
We’re starting off with preparation. At Sekkan we are big fans of proactively addressing any situation!
Many years ago, I had a very difficult boss. Every time I went into a meeting with him, I left feeling disappointed and frustrated, both with him and with myself. I didn’t feel like I had achieved anything and was usually angry at how I had handled myself or how I had communicated during the meeting. Then I would spend hours going over the meeting in my head and thinking how I should have conducted myself instead. Sounds familiar?
Some time later, while reading on how to improve communication, I discovered the pre-meeting preparation hack. Over the years I’ve turned this strategy into a quick and easy “pre meeting cheat sheet” to go through before any important or difficult meeting. You can also use it in the beginning for less high-stakes meetings, in order to become familiar with it.
So let me walk you through my favorite pre-meeting cheat sheet.
You can download a printed version of this cheat sheet to keep handily at your desk!
What do you want to say?
The first step of your pre-meeting cheat sheet is becoming crystal clear on your key message(s). To nail down your main point, ask yourself: if communication goes awry during the meeting, and you can only transmit one message clearly, which one will it be?
Then, make a list of additional messages in decreasing order of importance. If you find out that you have a long list of issue to address, is there a chance of moving some to another meeting? Is it really necessary to cover them?
What would be a great outcome?
Ask yourself, if the meeting goes exactly as you would want it to go, what would the end result look like? What would be a home run? If you’re going for a decision, do you want consensus or do you want a decision to be made no matter what? If morale is low, do you want to motivate your team during the meeting or come out with a strategy for the next months for boosting the ambience?
Distinguishing the action or activity from the outcome is key. For instance, the meeting might be a presentation on a new research strategy. But what is the outcome? Buy-in from the team? Dividing the tasks ahead for this new strategy? Provide feedback to the strategy to make it better?
Some outcomes are very concrete. For example, “ten new marketing ideas” could be an outcome for a brainstorming session. Others are more subtle and difficult to measure: Getting buy-in and engagement for your new proposal. Both are ok, as long as you are clear on what a great outcome looks like to you.
How do you want to say it?
Now decide how do you want to say things. This is particularly important for high-stakes or difficult meetings (for example, when I had meetings with my ex-boss). Do you want to use a direct approach, i.e., just stating clearly your purpose and asking for what you want? Would you rather use an indirect approach, i.e., helping the individual(s) to reach a conclusion by themselves? (This is sometimes used as a strategy to create buy-in).
Your strategy may vary depending on your outcome. If you want to ensure consensus, more discussion will be needed than if you want to just share facts or a decision you've made. If you're sharing a complex idea or strategy, can you use an example or an analogy for clarification and greater impact? If your aim is to get people on board, you may want to look at ways to inspire them. If the meeting is a difficult one, you may want to think through the wording that may create the least resistance.
What is your intention for yourself ?
How do you avoid feeling stressed, or awful after a meeting?
No matter how the exchange goes and whether or not you achieve your outcome, you can decide beforehand how you want to feel before, during, and after the exchange. You have control over this. Be conscious of this control and your power to choose how you'll feel.
For example, your intention can be "no matter what the other person says, I won't get angry." Or"I will strive to talk for only 20% of the time and use the other 80% to really listen." Or, "I will bite my tongue before discarding any silly idea that John comes up with, I will try to consider it from his point of view". Or, “Even if I don’t get the promotion, I’ll leave the meeting feeling good that I asked for it”.
That’s it! Four questions, 15 minutes of your time before a meeting, and you’ll start having more focused meetings with better outcomes!
Do you have other strategies you use to prepare for meetings? Share in the comments or on FB!