Meeting and the art of using them to get your way

David Taylor looks at the dynamic of the office meeting - and shows you how you can get what you want from them

David Taylor looks at the dynamic of the office meeting - and shows you how you can get what you want from them

Like it or not, much of our time, and energy, is spent in company meetings. We can make of these what we will - treat them as a waste of time and that is what they will become, use them to pass the time, and that is what they will do.

Utilise them to understand your peers and organisation, and to build rapport, however, and the time will not be wasted. On the contrary, it will be an investment, with some fun thrown in as well.

Many important decisions, and directions are taken at meetings, but this week we are not concerned with those. We are concerned with the psychology of power at business and company meetings - so much can be learned without others realising you are learning.

Much has been researched and written about behaviour, contributions and lessons of meetings. So for the past two weeks, several of us decided to test these theories, both in and outside of organisations. These were tried out in meetings of over six people.

  • Sit to the right of a right-handed chairperson (or left of a left-handed) if you want to have greatest influence over him/her.

    Worked almost every time. There seems a natural tendency for the Chair to confide in/hold separate discussions with the person next to their writing hand.

  • Listen to what everyone says and then make your contribution.

    Sadly no. We couldn't get a word in edgeways. You may gain a greater understanding of what people want from the discussion, but you won't get your view across.

  • The funniness of jokes is directly proportionate to the seniority of the person telling them.

    Absolutely. When the CEO was at one meeting, silence was given for anything he wanted to say, and when he made a joke everyone laughed. When one of my friends offered a (far wittier) retort, there was no reaction.

  • Where you sit makes all the difference to your perceived contribution/relationship with the Chair.

    Half proven. They (whoever "they" are) say if you sit directly opposite the Chair you will be in conflict, but if you sit at an opposite angle, you will gain greater eye contact and rapport.

    It seems the way to master meetings is to have them sewn up before they happen, which is more about the psychology of the individuals involved than the meeting itself. If you have gone to the trouble of speaking with, listening to and persuading other attendees, before the event, you will be on a firm footing. How do you do this?

    Find out what they think or want by listening and asking questions, and make sure your solution or recommendation fits their need. Simple.

    How do you build rapport with people in meetings? There are many ways - eye contact combined with appearing interested works a treat and nodding also helps, but the most powerful method is to mutter "yes" occasionally. If you want to learn more, read up about body language.

    But if you want to floor a meeting completely, wait until a phrase or acronym is mentioned that you do not understand. If you do not understand it, chances are neither will anyone else. Then, in a clear, confident but slightly apologetic tone, ask what it means.

    This worked brilliantly for me (not), when I was in an organisation and the presenter used the term "knowledge management" three times in one paragraph.

    Drawing breath, I bravely asked what it meant in this context. There was a long pause, and the answer was given, with a greater sense of certainty than I think it deserved - "the management of knowledge", he said. Silly me.

    David Taylor's Inside Track. A provocative insight into the world of IT in business, is out now. The book is the latest in the Computer Weekly Professional Series, published by Butterworth Heinemann. Call 01865 888180 to order a copy.

  • This was last published in March 2000

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