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

by

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? rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.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:

The Fram, Amundsen's shipBreaking the Rules
Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
Representative Sam Graves, Republican of MissouriOn the Appearance of Impropriety
Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean, what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1846, in a charcoal portrait by artist Eastman JohnsonA Critique of Criticism: II
To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to, and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of inflicting pain?
Nez Perce ceremonial shirtExasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945Suppressing Dissent: II
Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.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 X, or share a post 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.