3 Ideas to Bring Into Every Meeting

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC

Most workers intuitively get the concept of professional idea management (or PIM, as no one refers to it). We know not to unleash all of our brilliance in one supreme moment during a meeting.

“Instead of parallel-pathing it, let’s perpendicular-path it! And add additional customer support. And Jayden should manage all of it… and be given a title change and modest increase in salary!”

And we know not to keep everything to ourselves.

“Jayden, I’ll let you take this one.”

And we know timing is important: We try to wait for the right moment to make an assertion.

“Sorry to interrupt you, J, but I was thinking the exact same thing.”

We read the Zoom and we proceed, guided by some combination of ambition, intuition, and collegiality. And that’s why even boring meetings are always at least a little bit stressful. Meetings allow people to advocate for themselves and others and to propose new approaches that could fundamentally change the work they do (and the work of others). There’s always the potential for job-changing discussion. Engaging in meetings — even structured ones — feels pre-chaotic.

And that’s just the discussion that’s happening out loud. In every meeting, each of the participants is also involved in an interior meeting that no one else has access to: A one-person negotiation of what to say, and when, and how.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to apply a kind of structure to the internal meeting in my mind. And wondering: What if I did some of that internal negotiation ahead of time? What if I had a plan before every meeting, or at least a menu of options?

I’d like to propose an internal meeting agenda. It’s an approach that has helped me recently, and that I think will be useful at your next meeting — not just for coming up with things to say, but to make sure you’re saying something meaningful.

These three things easy to come up with, can be naturally incorporated into most discussions, and are inherently collegial.

A tension

I’m borrowing this from the Holacracy approach to management. According to Holacracy founder Chris Cowan, a tension isn’t merely a problem but “the feeling you get when you sense a gap between what is and what could be.” Tensions are helpful to bring to meetings because when you share one, you invite others to participate both in identifying the reason for the gap and in discovering what could alleviate it. And sharing a tension is a strangely empathetic experience, because everyone else is probably feeling it, too.

A half-baked approach that everyone can be involved in baking

My favorite way to introduce an idea is “What if we… ” The key is to switch the pronoun to “I” as soon as it’s clear you’re the one who should be accountable for it.

An idea you don’t mention

Always bank an idea for next time. Or at least plan to bank an idea. I’m an editor, and one way I judge a story draft is: Does it feel like the writer left something out? Does this story feel like it reflects one story among many that could’ve been told? That’s a great thing! It suggests that what I’m reading is “select,” like a cut of beef.

A meeting works the same way. Even though you’re not stating your banked idea, you’ll likely hint at it. And it will inform the way you speak (or don’t speak) about the ideas of others.

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

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