Integrity is usually a major conversation when I coach groups of executives. It almost always comes up in the context of arriving at the meeting on time or returning promptly from breaks.1 This leads to a discussion of consequences, by which people mean punishments for not being on time: fines, humiliation, etc. This opens a powerful examination of monitoring, enforcement, and integrity throughout the organization.
The principles of meeting facilitation, as delineated three centuries ago.
…a mutual deference is affected; contempt of others disguised; authority concealed; attention given to each in his turn; and an easy stream of conversation maintained, without vehemence, without interruption, without eagerness for victory, and without any airs of superiority. These attentions and regards are immediately agreeable to others, abstracted from any consideration of utility or beneficial tendencies: they conciliate affection, promote esteem, and extremely enhance the merit of the person who regulates his behaviour by them.
–David Hume 1711-1776
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
Section VIII Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable To Others.
The problem is that consumer recording equipment is unshielded; cell phones, fluorescent lights, etc. radiate energy that can induce a current that becomes noise. My solution is to use professional equipment with laptop recording software. It is more money and trouble, but the quality is very high.
Step 1: Get a mic mixer for the PC, so that you can use professional mics. I prefer the ones that plug into the USB or FIREWIRE port so that I can bypass the internal sound card. Others connect to the “LINE IN” jack of your sound card, if it has one (not the computer’s MIC jack).
I no longer use the M-Audio MobilePre USB – 2 Channel USB Mic Preamp with XLR and 1/8″ Stereo Miniplug Mic Inputs
I changed to the Lexicon Lambda just because it works under Vista and Windows 7 (and, WIndows 10).
The Great Recession has led many of my executive coaching clients to reduce 401(k) contributions, celebrations, work hours (through furloughs), and cut other employee perqs. These leaders often explain the reductions as prudent adjustments to avoid layoffs. Employees, unfortunately, are likely to react by becoming less trusting and cooperative with their employers, as this new research illustrates.
“Even something that is not so strong as a vindictive action—something simply perceived as a negative act,” [Professor Boaz] Keysar says, “escalates quickly.”
The researchers paired up participants for several games of give and take. In one a designated leader decided how much of $100 to give to a partner. In another, leaders decided how much of $100 to take from their partners. … Subjects in the study also consistently reacted better to receiving something than to having it taken from them, even when the gift left them with less money, say $30 instead of $50.
Leaders, however, thought they were being fair … “They did not anticipate,” Keysar says, “that the other person was going to perceive them as doing something negative.” What’s more, he discovered that as the game wore on, each successive round saw partners grabbing more and more as they alternated the taking role. Perceiving the takers as selfish, the participants became less generous.
Here is a complete toolkit for implementing one of my most powerful and versatile techniques, The Conversation Contract™. Leading psychologist Thomas Harris, author of the bestselling I’m OK–You’re OK, developed the basic process to help people conduct the most important and stressful conversations in their lives. I have refined it over the past fifteen years in my work with salespeople, managers, government officials, and CEOs to its present form. You can use it for better meetings, telephone calls, and family interactions.
Start with this video and reinforce your skills with the printouts linked below. You may also want to use my 12 Step Program for productive confrontation by clicking here, Conversations that Make a Difference.
Help the other person feel safe. “We’re friends and colleagues now and we’ll still be friends and colleagues after this conversation.” Easy on the relationship, rigorous on the topic.
Get a firm agreement on facts before delving into opinions. Be conscientious about distinguishing facts from opinions. “The client reported several misspellings in the report,” is a fact. “Your work is sloppy,” is an opinion.
Remember, seek first to understand, then to be understood, is Covey’s fifth habit. Listen before you speak. Encouraging the other person to talk first is also a way to get his or her concerns out of his or her head to make room in there for what you have to say.
Ask questions to clarify how it looks to him or her. Stop behaving as though you know what they think; be genuinely curious.
Repeat key points back to him or her to show that you are listening and to verify that you have heard correctly. You do not need to agree with the person’s point of view, but it is helpful to let him or her know you understand and you accept that he or she sees that way right now.
Take responsibility for your own reactions.
It is not responsible to assert, “You are forcing me to double-check all of your reports.” It is more useful to explain, “When I hear a client complain I feel obligated to double-check all of your reports.” See the difference? The first is the voice of a victim making an accusation, one who has reached a firm conclusion about the location of the problem: it’s the other guy. The second is a person making a choice on limited information, one who is eager to consider alternatives.
The simple shortcut from victim to choice is to start sentences with “I” rather than “you.”
Establish the level of trust: sincerity, capacity, competence, consistency, and care. “I know that you can see when a project is suffering from scope creep and that you will let me know about it.”
Explicitly agree on the shared commitment or values e.g., “We both want to preserve the company’s reputation with clients and develop the next generation of project managers”
Point-out what you see as missing or not working. Reach an agreement on the facts of the situation and its threat to our shared commitment.
Explore and create together possible actions to move closer to circumstances consistent with your shared values. Don’t get stuck on your favorite course of action. It is not a solution until both sides take action to make it work.
Make requests and promises.
Establish a structure of accountability for monitoring the agreed actions.
These steps are in sequence, like bricks in a wall. If you are having trouble completing a step, return to the previous step. That is, if you cannot agree on the relevant shared values, talk about trust. If you cannot talk about trust, talk about safety. If you cannot talk about safety, get in touch with your center. Get centered even if you need to take a break and leave the room.
For a group of people to work smoothly together, each member must understand what constitutes agreement. This understanding is often left in the background, unexamined, as everyone assumes their standards match those of other people. Fundamental to the success of the executive off sites I conduct is helping the group make these assumptions explicit so that everyone is playing by the same rules. If, in fact, everyone has the same standards, we finish this step quickly. If not, time invested early to clarify the ground rules saves a lot of time (and upset) later.
There are two essential parts: clarity and verity. First, everyone must be clear on what is being agreed. Second, the group needs a way to know if agreement has been reached.
I heard one CEO executive coaching client summarize the tremendous value of his coach’s listening and probing by saying, “This is where I come to get my answers questioned.” Top executives, especially those operating in a strong corporate culture, can find themselves in an echo chamber where everyone seems to be saying the same thing, thereby confusing their mutual agreement with reality. It is the most “obvious” assumptions that most severely constrict our thinking.
Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here,” he started, and everyone nodded their heads in agreement. “Then,” he went on, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
Solid, basic advice on better business meetings from a business psychologist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business is here in a column Reid Hastie wrote for the New York Times. Key pointers:
Set Explicit Objectives
Consider Opportunity Costs
Grade the Convener
I would add:
Use a Professional Facilitator (If the stakes are high enough).
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