One trick to turn a useless meeting into effective communication

February 15, 2015 liane
Team members talking with each other

How often do you meet with your team without actually communicating with them? For one team I worked with recently, that kind of meeting was commonplace. Now they were offsite with an opportunity to dig deeply into some of the most pressing questions facing the team. Three hours into the day, one of the participants said how much he was enjoying the session because “we meet a lot but we don’t talk very much.”

It was a funny statement at first because this was not a group of wallflowers. They were very talkative and everyone was contributing to the conversation. But I understood what he was trying to say: We get together and present to each other but we don’t actually talk with each other. For the person who said “we don’t talk very much,” there was something important about the day’s conversation being unscripted, candid, and unrushed that made it talking rather than just meeting.

For the next little while, the group talked to each other. They were frank, they were open and transparent, and they even demonstrated a willingness to be vulnerable in front of each other. They made significant progress by getting out of the presenting mode and into the talking mode.

The participants were happy with that improvement; but I wasn’t satisfied. They still weren’t communicating.

When one person made a comment, three others would jump in and make a statement. Sometimes this statement directly contradicted the first point and other times it was just an unrelated point that took the conversation off in another direction. So now each individual was really talking, but they were talking in parallel with one another and not bringing the team any closer together on the issues.

The final step was to get them communicating. That meant lingering on a point for two, three, or four rounds. When someone made a comment, the next person needed to ask a question to really understand what they were saying. Until the first person was willing to say that they had been heard and understood, they couldn’t move on.

In your next meeting, give your team a grade on your talking and your communicating. Start with assessing your talking: Are you really putting valuable information out or are you managing impressions? Then evaluate your communication: Are you hearing each other and increasing understanding and alignment? You will know when you start communicating because it will feel like there is suddenly more oxygen in the room. Instead of rushed, staccato statements darting off in all directions, you’ll see that the team settles down and moves more deliberately.

And that completely different feel of a conversation is what leads to my trick for creating effective communication. You need to picture your conversation as a waltz.

Can you feel the rhythm of the waltz in your body; 1, 2, 3… 1, 2, 3? Now think of the steps. Each box step is comprised of three steps in one spot before the bigger glide leads you to another part of the dance floor. Try to imagine your team’s conversations that way. Take a least three steps in each spot before transitioning to a new spot. The first step introduces the idea. The second step responds to the first. The third step brings everyone back together so you are balanced and prepared to move on.

That’s it. Just do that. Measured pace, deliberate movements, closing one loop before opening another. Waltz with your team. Try it and report back!

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