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The power of listen

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One time I was invited to a meeting where leaders were discussing the next steps around a holistic responsive design approach. I was invited to the meeting last minute, but I was brought in as the organizational leader on the subject matter. So I was anxious to hear what was to be said and also contribute my knowledge and share past experiences about how to navigate through such a large undertaking for an organization.

Everyone showed up on time. The room was crowed and I grabbed a seat in the middle of the table. Small talk. Coffee. Light hearted jokes. You know how it goes.

The meeting starts with a “welcome” by the leaders and they get right into it. I sat quietly for 45 minutes as I watched a deck be presented about strategy and tactics around executing a global responsive design initiative. The room sat quietly as only a few members of leadership talked back and forth about the topic, the strategy and the approach. It became an overly crowded room with many flies on the wall watching a small conversation take place around a topic these leaders hired others to take on.

At the end of the meeting, everyone left the room with a clear goal of where the direction is headed for this project. I was confronted by a manager who asked “You sure were quiet in there, why didn’t you say anything?”

I thought about it and responded, “Because they had already made their minds up. We were there to serve as an audience, not to have a real dialogue about the topic.”

That scenario tends to happen a lot in meeting rooms everywhere. I hear countless stories of frustration from people in many different roles who share a situation that is very similar. Everyone shows up and gets told how to do their jobs in a worse way than what they were hired to do.

But meetings do not have to be this way. In fact, I believe that meetings should never be this way. A meeting, if communicated properly with your organization, is a time where you make the gathering about everyone else. And as long as you can get everyone in the room to agree to the approach, you will have an incredible outcome where trust and synergy is built – this translates to productive and success work on a daily basis as you move forward from the meeting.

In another situation, I met with a small team of designers to work on a secret project that would presented to a larger creative group. We established early on that any idea was a good idea and our time would be a place to share and learn. We subscribed to the notion that reductive thinking would not be allowed and with any idea, we would say “Yes and..” over “No” or “But”. We established the setting for positive trust and synergy within our meetings.

As time went on, that project became a huge success. We all loved working with each other during the process and when it came time to present our project to a larger audience, we blew everyone away. I think our synergy and trust translated that energy into our project and it breathed a certain type of life into what we were designing.

To this day, it was one of my all time favorite moments of collaboration. We won the favor of our peers and we actually won first place for our project’s design in an internal business competition. I believe the success of this happened because we set the framework, everyone had a chance to speak and we celebrated each other’s ideas versus the previous story where the leaders told everyone else what we should do with zero input from others.

I remember a time where I would sit in meetings in corporate environments and kind of let mind drift away for awhile because I was incredibly bored.

Meetings should be a time where other people can share an idea or communicate thoughts and concerns. So many times I would sit in these large corporate meetings with more people than necessary. The next thing you know, a director or person of status takes up most of the meeting time talking. And not talking about new ideas or engaging any real dialogue with people, only to pose a question so they can take a break and continue said rant.

These people continuously wait for the right moment to interrupt and continue their own internal dialogue to a room full of people who either don’t care or have better things to do.

I’ve sat in meetings discussing having other meetings about meetings only to decide when we would schedule the next meeting.

I’ve sat completely quiet in a room full of self-important people, listening to everyone talk about what they want, what they think something should be without any regard for what someone else may want.

A meeting place, to me, turned into a time when you grandstand and talk more than everyone else in the room to get your idea heard.

I don’t believe meetings are a time to reflect on yourself and talk about what you want and what you believe a solution should be. I believe that meetings should be approached with empathy towards other people. Meetings should be focused on the opportunities to ask others their thoughts and really listen to what others are saying. I believe good meetings are meant to setup an agenda or framework, explain a brief overview and then really open up the time for people to listen and learn from everyone.

Meetings like this are only successful if everyone involved is on board. If everyone in the room accepts and understands that a meeting is about learning and listening from everyone else. I think starting a meeting with the premise that the goal is to really learn and understand from others, you create a true synergy in the room which translates to more trust and productivity.

I believe that the success of any team is built on synergy and trust. A meeting is not a place to lecture, dictate, grandstand and be heard, but an opportunity to listen and learn from others.