Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 23, Issue 32;   August 9, 2023: Recapping One-on-One Meetings

Recapping One-on-One Meetings


Some short one-on-one meetings produce important decisions without third-party witnesses. Instead of relying on fickle memory to capture these results, send a recap by email immediately afterwards. Recaps improve decisions and make them more durable.
A red mailbox

A red mailbox. Not the kind of mailbox that receives email.

You've just "met" with a colleague — I'll call him Ian — to resolve an ongoing disagreement about resource allocations. I say met in quotes because you didn't actually meet face-to-face. It was at the end of a videoconference you both attended, and you and Ian stayed on after everyone else left. The two of you agreed that Ian's needs could wait for two weeks, and you could then have the access you needed through the end of the month. You also agreed on a process for resolving future conflicts using a framework you just now agreed to. The framework is a bit complicated, because it has several conditions that define relative priorities, but it should work.

You just hope that Ian understands the agreement the same way you do, and that he'll hold to it. If he does, it should work. But the operative word is if. You guess you'll just have to wait and see.

And that's the thing. You can do better than waiting and seeing — much better — by sending Ian an email message recapping the results of your non-meeting meeting. In that way you can dramatically improve the chances of your new agreement fulfilling its promise. Email recaps can help if the situation meets three conditions:

  • The agreement is reasonably supportive of both parties to the agreement
  • Both parties have at least a minimum of integrity
  • The email recap fairly represents the transaction

This post explains how to construct email recaps, and how to use them in situations like the one above to strengthen agreements and make them more durable.

What an email recap is

A recap A recap is a short email message that summarizes
the main points of a conversation that has just
occurred. It's usually written immediately
after the conversation ends.
is a short email message that summarizes the main points of a conversation that has just occurred. It's usually written immediately after the conversation ends, by only one of the participants in that conversation. It doesn't cover every detail of the conversation, because it's written as a high-level summary. It's complete enough so that both participants would agree that the major points of the conversation are all included in the recap.

Keep in mind that the primary purpose of the email recap is to record the broad strokes of the agreement in one place for future reference. It's a tool for quickly resolving — or even better, for preventing — future disputes. From time to time, we might amend our agreement, but the recap message says, "Here's what we agree to at this point."

Why sending a recap message is a good idea

Here are some examples of benefits of sending an email recap message to the person you just reached agreement with. I'll continue to refer to that person as Ian, and I'll refer to the content of the agreement as X.

  • If you and Ian have different understandings of X, the email recap makes obvious the need for more conversation.
  • Composing the email recap helps clarify X in your own mind.
  • In composing the email recap you might realize some important points that eluded you until now.
  • The email recap can be a useful resource in a future dispute with Ian if you later want to recall what X was.

Have a well-crafted subject line

Since an email recap is an email message, it will end up in your recipient's mailbox. Using a simple, intuitive format for its subject line will simplify finding it again, when it's needed. Examples:

  • Recap of our conversation about X
  • Summary of our agreement about X
  • Summary of the framework we just adopted for X

Whatever format you use for subject lines for email recaps, be sure to use it for all email recaps. That makes them easy to find and easy to write a filter for.

Risks of sending a recap message

Sending email recaps is not without risk. Ian might think that because you don't trust him, you felt it was necessary to send an email recap. There are two cases of interest with respect to this risk.

Your relationship with Ian is in serious trouble
In this case, the risk that Ian might feel distrusted is significant. It might be better not to send Ian an email recap. But you can still send one to yourself, just to make a record for your own use.
You and Ian are working together just barely well enough
In this case, consider sending a recap only to yourself, as a record. The risk of offending Ian might outweigh the benefit of a recap.

A respectful, humble tone is your risk mitigation strategy. Be sure to ask Ian to let you know if any amendments are needed. Expect Ian to offer some minor amendments, or to set you straight on anything you might have missed.

What to avoid

Be careful not to project a tone that implies that your own recollection is absolutely correct and definitive. On the other hand, also avoid expressing doubts about important elements of the agreement. For example, asking Ian directly for missing bits of information isn't advisable. To do so would cast doubt on the rest of your recap.

Last words

Acknowledge possible misunderstandings on your part. Here are some key phrases that help to express that acknowledgement.

  • As I understand the outcome of our conversation just now
  • Here's my recollection of what we just agreed to
  • Let me know whether or not this fits your recollection
  • Of course I could be mistaken
  • Maybe you recall it differently, but here's what I think we said
  • I believe we decided to defer on X for the time being
  • I believe we decided to leave X open until Y is set

If you've never written an email recap, practice with this post. Send yourself an email message recapping the major points of this post. Go to top Top  Next issue: Lessons Not Learned: I  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

CornThe "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
William Tecumseh Sherman as a major general in May 1865On Badly Written Email
Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
A cat sleeping on grassColumbo Tactics: I
When the less powerful must deal with the more powerful, or the much more powerful, the less powerful can gain important advantages by adapting the strategy and tactics of the TV detective Lt. Columbo. Here's Part I of a collection of his tactics.
Ecotourists visit an iceberg off GreenlandWay Over Their Heads
For organizations in crisis, some but not all their people understand the situation. Toxic conflict can erupt between those who grasp the problem's severity and those who don't. Trying to resolve the conflict by educating one's opponents rarely works. There are alternatives.

See also Workplace Politics and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting of meerkatsComing September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A blue peacock of IndiaAnd on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.