Ask, Write, and Ask Again

This week’s 3X includes three ideas for improving workplace communication. Visit FixingWorkplaceCommunication.com to learn more.

Ask Before You Meet

Many of us find meetings at the workplace so frustrating because we often attend them just because we were invited. Some organizations have defined a maximum-participants policy to reduce this effect, but just limiting the number of people invited is not the optimal solution. A much more effective one is to ask yourself a value-oriented question: who can contribute to promoting the goal of the meeting?

Before setting up a meeting, you have to have a well-defined goal. People who can help you achieve this goal are good candidates to participate in the discussion. But even then, ask yourself what the value of having someone present throughout the meeting is. There are many cases where someone’s contribution is by approving or taking action once you have decided on the desired one. They might not need (or want) to participate in the discussion designed to come up with the proposed actionable step.

Instead of setting an arbitrary limit to the number of participants, limit yourself to inviting only people who deliver value in the context of the meeting’s goal. There’s a good chance the others will thank you for not inviting them.

Write Before You Meet

Setting up a meeting without a clear, communicated goal is useless. Setting up a meeting without a predefined agenda is not effective. But a well-defined goal and agenda, while being essential preconditions, are not enough. If you ask people to invest their time in a meeting, you’d better come well-prepared.

One great way to prepare for a meeting is to write down what you wish to say, ask, and discuss. It is more than defining the agenda: it is the summary of your part of the meeting before it has taken place.

Writing your arguments and insights, adding relevant data, and highlighting what needs to be discussed, clarified, or decided, will help you run the meeting more effectively. If you share it with the other participants before the meeting, they will also be able to prepare better. The starting point of the discussion would be better, and it is more likely to result in concrete decisions or an action plan.

Ask After You Meet

If you want to make your meetings more effective, take the time to collect feedback from the participants. Did they find the meeting useful? Did they feel they have something to contribute? How was the agenda organized, and how was the discussion managed? What would help them spend less time and achieve even better results next time?

All these questions and others will help you fine-tune how you set up and manage face-to-face discussions. The feedback of actual participants is far more valuable than any arbitrary policy, such as limiting meeting time or the number of participants. With time you will find the optimal setup and workflow for each type of meeting.

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