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:
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought.
The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
- One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit
low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How
do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
- And on August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
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