In our previous two blog posts, we’ve looked at the importance of having a clear purpose and clear objectives for your meeting, as well as ensuring time and attention are spent on the process as well as the content.
Today, we will delve deeper into process management, particularly in relation to how people interact with each other and the kind of atmosphere and level of engagement this interaction creates. We’ll also explore the concept of psychological safety and share practical insights that can transform the dynamics of your meetings.
A well-run meeting should foster high-quality communication between participants. After all, the primary reason we gather people in meetings is to facilitate meaningful dialogue. However, this isn’t a given in every meeting. You might have experienced meetings where interaction was minimal, participation was passive, or there was palpable tension and conflict. These are signs of a meeting environment that hasn’t been optimised for effective communication.
Process management involves managing the interactions between participants, creating a constructive environment and improving the dialogue, level of engagement, and outcomes of your meetings.
To facilitate an optimal flow of interaction and communication, we need to create a climate of mutual respect and trust. This brings us to the concept of psychological safety, coined by Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership at Harvard.
Psychological safety is defined as a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. In a psychologically safe environment, people are comfortable being themselves, freely expressing their thoughts (even disagreements), and attentively listening to others.
In order to create an environment of psychological safety, there are certain ground rules that must be established. Rather than imposing a set of rules from the top down, this is best achieved through collective team discussions and agreements. In teams, staff groups, or boards that meet regularly, it is worth setting aside some time in one meeting to talk about how you want to work together and how to ensure that the meeting space is one where everyone feels safe and encouraged to participate actively and constructively.
One useful model to consider is Dr. Elizabeth Price’s ‘Step Up-Step Back’ interaction model, which advocates for participants to self-monitor their speaking and listening. The idea is that you ‘step up’ and take the floor when you are speaking authentically, and ‘step back’ to listen deeply and assimilate what others have said (as opposed to immediately formulating a response in your mind).
There are also different Levels of Listening. These include Level 1, where you’re simply waiting for your turn to speak; Level 2, where you are listening to what the other person is saying but still evaluate it from your perspective; and Level 3, where you suspend your viewpoints temporarily to genuinely try to understand where the other person is coming from.
Encouraging Level 3 listening can significantly enhance the quality of dialogue and understanding in your meetings. A great question to invite people to reflect on when they are listening to one another is whether they are listening to understand or to ‘reload’.
Other ground rules to consider include speaking concisely, staying on topic, and using ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. It’s crucial to facilitate team input and reflection in establishing these ground rules, and they should be reviewed and reiterated at the start of each meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Creating a psychologically safe environment allows participants to bring their best selves to the table, share their viewpoints, ask pertinent questions, and be willing to listen and understand others. This is much more likely to lead to well-thought-through decisions that everyone can buy into because they’ve had a voice in the process.
In our next discussion, we’ll delve into some process interventions you can use during meetings to keep everything on track. I hope you find these insights useful in enhancing your meeting effectiveness, and I encourage you to reach out with any questions or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org