Creating and Conducting Purpose-Driven Meetings

Although I have also attended a number of worthwhile ones, my frequent experience of meetings is that they are disjointed, unfocused, and fragmented; and have questionable value.  During these meetings I often ask myself things like: “Haven’t we had this discussion many times before? ”  “Didn’t we already decide on what to do? ”   I feel like we keep starting over.  And starting over (or feeling like we’re starting over) takes energy – a lot of energy.  We’re talking major inertia – think Newton’s First Law of Motion here.  I think it’s common for a lot of us to feel like just getting started can be the hardest part of an endeavor.  Granted, starting over has its place; but as a modus operandi it is draining and sometimes demoralizing.  Plus we don’t get to reap the benefits of traction, momentum, and the feeling of being on a roll when we’re constantly starting over.  It’s almost like a strange version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Informal polling of my colleagues confirms that I am not alone in these feelings and opinions.
I contend that we spend too much time attending and not enough time preparing for meetings, too much time trying to figure out agenda items for recurring meetings (kind of a tail-wagging-the-dog phenomenon) and not enough time leveraging any value that we garner from them afterwards.  How can we hope to take the time to prepare and leverage when our calendars are stuffed with back-to-back meetings?  I’ve gone so far as to ask for a weekly full- or half-day meeting moratorium.  Everyone I mentioned this idea to – managers and individual contributors alike – thought it was a good idea; they also thought it wouldn’t likely fly.  I’ve since decided to drop this idea for the time being in favor of a new strategy: lower the supply of meetings by lowering the demand; lower the demand by making the meetings we do have more effective; and fuel a series of meetings with momentum and continuity by implementing the few practices I recommend below.
The practices I recommend:
1.       All meetings should have explicit objectives.
Objectives should be articulated such that we should be able to determine whether those objectives were met.  Now some objectives can be things like: To get attendees’ feedback about something, or to foster esprit de corps within a team.  The idea here is to be intentional about the purpose or purposes of a meeting.
2.       Meetings should have a facilitator to keep things on track and to capture parking lot items so they are not dismissed or lost.
There can be more than facilitator for a meeting, though not more than one simultaneously.  I can well imagine a meeting having different sections with different facilitators.  What is critical is that someone be empowered to keep things on track.
3.       Time should be allocated at the end of each meeting to identify next action steps and the person(s) responsible for carrying out each of the steps.
4.       In the spirit of Lean and Kaizen attendees should have a systematic way to rate meetings.
5.       Someone should write up a summary of the meeting that is sent to attendees for verification and modification.   The final draft of the summary should be published to a location that conforms to the standards of the group.
Let’s take the time, institute and consistently adhere to these practices.  Let’s commit to getting the biggest bang for our meeting buck!

Requests and Demands

The difference between a request and a demand is not a trivial one. When a person makes a request it is okay with the person making the request for the response to the request to be “No.” In contrast, when a person makes a demand a “No” response is not okay with the demander.  This distinction is useful because it fosters self-awareness (an essential element of Emotional Intelligence) and affords opportunities to improve the effectiveness and spirit of communication.   One can use this distinction to intentionally notice when it is being blurred.  We can clean up our communication by wholly owning and clearly articulating our requests and demands as such; and we can request clarification when the distinction seems to be blurred by others.
There are a variety of ways blurring this distinction wreaks havoc with our lives.  I’ve listed a few below.
  1. A request can be interpreted as a demand when it is in reality a genuine request
  2. A demand can masquerade as a request and be interpreted as a request.
  3. Both requests and demands can go unspoken.
As a recovering people pleaser, I have definitely interpreted requests as demands, sometimes spinning destructive narratives of resentment or righteous indignation based on those misinterpretations. Now armed with an awareness of the request/demand distinction, I can choose to say “No,” or candidly say that the request felt like a demand and ask for confirmation or clarification.  However clarified or confirmed, asking would disarm the time and energy consumed and wasted by my rumination.
People rarely clearly make demands.  They rarely say something to the tune of “I demand that you …(fill in the blank).”  Since often demands do insidiously masquerade as requests, it is easy to overgeneralize and interpret all requests as demands.  If you’ve been around people who habitually ‘hide’ demands in requests, you don’t have to be a people pleaser to feel that you can’t say “No.”  Again, it is useful to get clarification, especially since the person making the demand in the guise of a request may not be aware they are doing it.  So ask and help all involved take responsibility for their communication by modeling it.
Finally, there are the unspoken requests and demands.  Do you ever experience someone’s unspoken request or demand?  I find that it is pretty common for people to complain about not getting things they never asked for or demanded.  Often people have expectations of one another that are based on nothing tangible, no meeting of minds or agreement.  When asked about it they tend to say things like “I shouldn’t have to ask.  He should know I need that.   She should know what I want to hear.”  One of the problems of unspoken requests and demands is that nobody really wins.  There’s just confusion and opportunity for hedging and passive aggressiveness, neither of which yields win-win interactions.
In closing I encourage you (I’m talking to myself here too.) to use your words.  Clearly make your requests and demands by calling them out.  Don’t assume that others somehow know without your saying something.  If you’re not clear whether a request or demand is being made of you, ask for clarification.
Awareness empowers. Responsibility liberates.

Love Your Job!

Reading Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People back in the early nineties continues to have a profound impact on me and the way I look at things.  As different situations, especially challenging ones, present themselves I often think of a new way to apply some of the book’s principles and examples.
In The 7 Habits Covey recounts an interaction between him and a married couple at one of his seminars where the asks for his advice.  The interaction goes something like this .
Couple:  “We no longer feel love for each other.  What should we do?”
Covey:  “Love each other.”
Couple:  “You don’t understand.  We no longer feel love.”
Covey:   “Yes.  I understand.  My advice stands.  Love each other. “Love” is a verb.  Do and say those things that people who love one another do and say.”
This is wise counsel.  Emotion and state can and do follow action.  This counsel and observation can be applied to other areas of our lives too.  I wonder how many people used to love their jobs, but now view them as drudgery; they’ve “lost that loving feeling.” If this is you, I encourage you to ask yourself how your behavior would change if you did have that feeling.  Use your imagination.   If you were an impartial observer watching you on the job, what kind of things would you need to observe to come to the conclusion:  Wow! This person really loves what they do!  I challenge you to ask yourself this and then to start behaving in a way that would compellingly convince an observer of this.  This doesn’t mean that you passively and completely accept things just as they are or that you think that everything is perfect.  You can strive for growth, advocate for change, and still love; just as you can in a relationship with a person whom you love.  Your feelings will change when your actions do.  After all, “love” is a verb.
Finally, consider the words of another great teacher of our time, the late Wayne Dyer:  If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Perspectives of a Philosopher/Coach: Introduction

Happy New Year!  Welcome to the launch of my bi-weekly blog: Perspectives of a Philosopher/Coach
In this blog I share some of the fruits of my exploration in
◦Wellbeing and Happiness;
◦Full Engagement, Productivity, and Peak Performance;
◦Motivation, Goals, and Self-Actualization;
◦Culture; as well as
◦How these are all integrally connected.
Pretty compelling topics, right?  The basis for my writings includes my rigorous training and experience as a Life Coach; formal education in philosophy; decades of study and avid reading of topics from the fields of Applied Positive Psychology, Personal Development, Neuroscience, and Organizational Development; and my continuing voracious consumption of information from these disciplines.  My focus will be on how to apply what I’ve gleaned to every aspect of our lives, with particular emphasis on our professional lives.  I am committed to imparting my perspectives to readers in a way that delivers value, inspiration, food for thought, and insight.
  • You are invited to Follow Me.  Stay tuned!