This is Part III of my series on managing the risks of interrupting fellow attendees at meetings. In Part I I examined assigning roles that have prior group approval to interrupt when certain conditions are met. I also described a "process check" custom that enables attendees to halt the proceedings when a violation of norms has occurred. In Part II I explored three approaches that any attendee in any meeting could use, and examined the risks of each. In this Part III I examine three more methods individuals can use. For convenience, I'll use the name Inez for the interrupter, and Steve for the speaker.
- Wit and humor are frequently confused, possibly because the boundary between them is so fuzzy. Some remarks can be both witty and funny, while others are clearly one or the other. Both are helpful to the prospective interrupter, but wit can be more effective, because it's usually clever or insightful, and it might be more directly connected to whatever is happening in the present moment. And the "wit bar" is actually fairly low. Example: "I agree it's a complex problem, but many complex problems have simple solutions. Let's search a little while longer."
- Because witty remarks can be difficult to generate on the fly, it's most fortunate that they need not be original. Having a stock of them in your mind is both helpful and possible. For example, when the topic is continuous, incremental change, it's useful to cite the Chinese proverb that advises, "Two leaps per chasm is fatal." Become a collector of witty aphorisms: there are dozens of books and ebooks available. Chiasmus is a particularly powerful form: Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. Or check Web sites such as: "50 most inspirational quotes from books."
- As with all interruptions, brevity is power.
- One form of deftness is offering your comments in the form of questions, especially if directed at the person interrupted. Examples: "Have you considered…," "Is it worth contacting them about it…," "Is it possible that those two systems are interacting in some other way…," "Do you know how the regulators would react to that idea…"
- Questions Because witty remarks can be
difficult to generate on the fly,
it's most fortunate that
they need not be originalcan be effective because they inherently cede the floor to someone else other than the interrupter. They're less likely to be seen as tools for seizing control of the discussion and therefore less likely to give offense.
- Confidence — and courage
- Courage is most useful when you disagree with the speaker. If you're confident of your position, and your relationship is solid, directness might be most effective. Examples: "I see it a little differently…," "I have to disagree on that…," or "We actually found them to be very reliable on the Marigold work…"
- If there's room for debate or uncertainty, a less direct approach might work better: "I've heard from Erica in New York that their approach is getting great results. How do our projections compare?" Note the use of our instead of your. Our is less confrontational.
- Even less directly, Inez can challenge Steve's position by combining his position with all others, offering a radically different perspective: "Here's a wild idea — what if…" Being radically different, and being at odds with all previous thinking — not just Steve's — enables Inez to avoid singling out only Steve. He's less likely to feel targeted.
Most important, take care not to embarrass or ridicule any fellow attendee, ever. If you do, some might see your interruptions as thin cloaks for personal attacks, even if you're innocent of any such motive. People who make this interpretation might then counterattack on the basis of your speaking out of turn. Whatever you were trying to accomplish might then be moved out of your reach. The consequences for you could be long lasting, extending into future meetings. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good
idea, but there are some hidden costs.
- FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
- Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the
world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open
a universe of new choices.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- Problem Not-Solving
- Group problem solving is a common purpose of meetings. Although much group problem solving is constructive,
some patterns are useless or worse. Here are some of the more popular ways to engage in problem not-solving.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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