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By Darryl Stewart
Think before you speak

Think before you speak

Over the years, I have been involved in hundreds of meetings for many purposes. As a young man and a junior at whatever meeting it was, I thought my role was to say what I thought, look smart, and make my points. I was almost completely unaware of the many dynamics going on in most meetings. I cringe today when I think of some of the well-intentioned, but highly counter-productive things I forced other leaders to have to deal with before I started to smarten up.

So here is my incomplete random list of things to keep in mind so you don’t become the one who is driving everyone else crazy in meetings and causing the leader to think murderous thoughts:

  • Keep on task. The purpose of most meetings is to communicate certain information to a group and make decisions. Keep focused on these goals and don’t bring in things that are not relevant.  
  • Don’t treat meetings as social time. You can usually socialize and chat with people after a meeting—more so if it ends on time or, miraculously, it ends early. Don’t waste everyone’s time with excessive socializing during the meeting. Stay focused and help support the meeting leader with getting through the work that needs to be done.
  • Think about what you are going to say. Make it make sense. Let your rational brain figure out the message before you start to speak, especially if the topic has hit a nerve with you, you don’t agree, etc. Take a second to let the emotion pass and let your brain figure out how to communicate your thoughts effectively.
  • Don’t offend or shame others in the meeting. Think about how the different people in the room will be impacted by what you have to say. If you are going to offend someone or make them look bad, don’t do it unless absolutely necessary (there are rare times you can’t avoid it because the issue is too important and needs to be addressed immediately). I have seen meetings go off the rails because someone said something to offend someone else, something that had little bearing on the issue at hand, but did cause someone to act out defensively or to check out and say nothing for the rest of the meeting. If something might offend or embarrass, but you can let the right people know outside of the meeting—then do that instead.
  • Don’t bring up inappropriate subjects. If what you have to say is only for a few people in the room, think carefully. If you can take it offline and out of the meeting, do so. Good leaders will often stop discussions like this, asking those involved to take it offline. Don’t make the leader have to do this too often. If you start something like this then realize what you have done (this happens to all of us) volunteer to take it offline and save the leader having to cut you off.

There is one kind of non-core, seemingly counter-productive activity that I want to recommend you do include in your meetings—adding a personal touch or a small bit of levity to a discussion. A “that is really funny to me!” or a “I love that we did that!” or a “my husband would not believe I am saying this, but…”. This shows you respect, enjoy, and appreciate the team you are working with. If you feel comfortable with the situation don’t repress this sort of thing. It lightens the meeting and helps others get to know and appreciate you. Just don’t go overboard with it.

All this is not to make you afraid of speaking up. When you have something to add to the discussion, your duty is to speak up. These simple tips are designed to help people take you more seriously and increase your effectiveness in meetings. If anyone has a time machine, please send this blog back to Darryl Stewart in about 1995. That would save some very patient leaders a lot of headaches!

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