Don’t Hate Meetings; Make Them Better with Fruitful Debates

By Harvard Business Review
March 26, 2018

The  point of getting together is to have discussions you can’t have any other way,  yet most meetings are devoid of conflict. To improve, focus on making the discussion more robust.

The purpose of a meeting is to have a discussion that will result in a great decision. How you as a manager or participant behave in those meetings matters a great deal.

At a productive meeting, members debate issues, consider alternatives, challenge one another, listen to minority views and scrutinize assumptions. Every participant can speak without fear of retribution.

Yet, many people shy away from such conflict, conflating disagreement and debate with personal attacks. In reality, this sort of friction produces the best decisions.

With that in mind, here are five practical tips to lead a good fight in meetings:

Start by asking a question, not uttering your opinion: It frames the problem to be debated, signals that you want real debate and invites people with different ideas to speak up.

Help quiet people speak up: Even with good questions, many people refrain from speaking up. To draw them in, try to “warm call” them ahead of the meeting, saying, “Hey, we’re going to have this meeting. I know you have a particular viewpoint, and I think it’s very important that it gets heard, so I’d like to make sure you share it with the group.”

Make it safe for people to take risks: Establish an atmosphere of psychological safety. To create such a climate, lead by example; support those who try; and sanction those who ridicule others.

Take the contrarian view: When a CEO takes the contrarian view — for example, by asking whether a company should lower the price for a service at a meeting about raising it — he forces people to have solid arguments for their views.

Dissect the most fundamental assumptions: Go after assumptions like a prosecutor goes after a criminal: Do a deep dive yourself, get other experts to analyze the matter and expect the team to be extremely thorough.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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