Whether we realize it or not, we all come to meetings with expectations of others. If we have previously met with a particular group, our past experiences influence our current or future expectations. Even if this is a new meeting or a new group of people, we still bring expectations based on previous experiences and our current context. If we come to the meeting assuming that everyone there is ready to contribute, show respect, understand one another and work together in order to address complex challenges, then we are likely to bring out the best in them. Alternatively, if we come to the meeting with preconceptions about members of the group and are just waiting for one or more people to derail the meeting and create contention, then it will be more challenging to bring out the best in them. An important meeting guiding principle that will help you bring out the best is to: Believe the best. Join me this week as I provide three strategies to practice so that you can believe the best in others during your next meeting.
Focus on the positive.
When we focus on the positive in each person in the meeting, we are more likely to be able to believe the best in them. I realize that in some situations this is more difficult than in others. If past experiences have been negative, finding the positive can be more difficult. When you can focus on the positive, even a very small positive attribute or contribution, you are more likely to be able to believe the best and bring out the best. In our coalitions, most people participate because they want to meet a need, change a health outcome in a positive direction and overall make a bigger impact together than could happen on our own. Focusing on the positive does not ignore the realities of the negative. Alternatively, focusing on the positive allows us to fix our attention on what is good, helpful and useful. When we focus on the positive, we set the example for others in the meeting to do the same. You cannot make people be positive or see positive attributes of others; however, if you are setting the example, you are creating an opportunity for others to do this more easily.
During a meeting, there are two primary ways that you can practice encouragement. You can use your words and your facial expressions. When someone shares her perspective on a topic, you can use your words to show appreciation for her contribution. If you have specific examples on how you have utilized someone’s resources or found a partner’s insight helpful, let the group know. In other situations, you can use your facial expressions to be encouraging. By paying attention to another person while they speak, giving a smile, nodding your head or using other non-verbal communication to be encouraging, you are contributing toward believing the best in others. After a meeting, you can also send a quick email, chat or text message thanking the partner for her contribution. Encouragement is most helpful when it is both specific and sincere. Most of us have experienced situations when someone may be attempting to be encouraging but it feels a lot like flattery and actually makes us uncomfortable. If we are moving toward believing the best, be specific, sincere and consider the method that would be best received by the other person.
When you are in a meeting where there is a lot of discussion and different opinions related to a topic, it can be difficult to continue to believe the best. We want our coalitions, partnerships and teams to be honest, open and comfortable enough to share their perspectives. When we create this environment, conflict is welcome but can be challenging to navigate. Participants may feel like they need to choose a side or that the other people do not have the best interest of the group when sharing their perspective. In reality, we all come with our own agendas, biases, perspectives and topics that are more important to us than others. If we are going to continue to believe the best, we often have to practice the skill of reframing. Reframing helps the group see things a third way. Rather than having to choose one side or another, when we reframe the conversation and the situation, we are more open to seeing new possibilities and believing the best. Recently, I was part of a small group working on a project. Several people were contributing to the content and making recommendations on what needed to be included. One of the participants disagreed with a specific section and I initially thought she was being difficult and critical. After reflecting on her recommendations, I realized that she was looking at it from a different perspective and had valuable insights that the rest of the group did not notice. At that moment, I took the opportunity to thank her for her comments and to validate that although it was not the direction we planned to take that it helped us see this from a new perspective. I also let her know that I appreciated that she brought different strengths to the group and that we needed her attention to detail. By reframing, I practiced believing the best and helping the rest of the group move toward believing the best again too.
So what about you? What are you going to do this week to practice the meeting guiding principle, Believe the best?
If you would like more support in leading meetings and practicing these and other principles, check out my free e-book, How to Lead your Best Meeting.