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Interpersonal Skills. Agenda for a meeting

Category: Training

Points on an agenda for a team meeting can be the following:

Yesterday’s performance and today’s plan

Particular problems that have arisen, their solution or planned action to resolve

Achievements of team members

Updating of the team’s performance against targets

Information the supervisor has gleaned from other sources including company news that may be of interest

Introducing new team members, farewell to those who are moving on

Advising the team on visitors to the section

• Social events, birthdays, weddings, births, etc.

Although the meetings are short in duration (a few minutes), when planned and prepared properly (in this they are no different from formal structured meetings) it can cover many things. Remember, five minutes a day is 25 minutes a week — nearly two hours a month! — Or 5 minutes a day for 5 persons are 125 minutes a week…


Preparation is very important. In particular, attention should be paid to:

Gathering the facts

Listing items in priority order

Keeping to the agenda and timing

Providing time for comments and discussion.

Only where absolutely necessary, should the supervisor read out the information. Normally it is better to speak from bullet point notes.

It is important for the supervisor (and other management members) to frequently visit the workplace for face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball communications. Be genuinely involved in the process and not just ask superficial questions or make comments which are not relevant. Communicate with the people about matters which affect them, in a way that is right for them. It must also be a genuine two-way process with quick feedback, where required. In this regard Jack Welch, CEO General Electric, says: «Its not a speech or a videotape. Its not a plant newspaper. Real communication is an attitude, an environment. Its the most interactive of all processes. It requires countless hours of eyeball to eyeball back and forth. It involves more listening than talking. It is a constant, interactive process.»

Of all the tasks facing an instructor or consultant (facilitator) the most difficult is getting the best out of people, ensuring that they pull together and that contributions are effective. Participants behaviour can vary for many reasons. We can all, in turn, be argumentative, obstructive, constructive, helpful, tolerant, impatient etc. We may be distracted by personality clashes or hidden agendas. The permutations are endless. It is the role of the facilitator to keep all participants working together to the best of their ability, irrespective of their feelings regarding the agenda item or each others. To this end, the facilitator must:

Facilitate the discussion.

Deal with problem participants.

These points are now discussed individually:

How to run a meeting efficiently/


The facilitator needs to listen carefully in order to:

Evaluate all contributions

Be aware of bad feelings and ‘hidden agendas’

Push at the right time to summarise and move on

Know when to continue discussing a point to a conclusion

Clarify points when the discussion is getting side-tracked.

Some problems due to a failure to listen. Read the following carefully:

«I just can’t understand my son (wife/husband/daughter). He/she just never listens to me’.

‘You don’t understand him because he won’t listen to you? Surely, to understand another person

you need to listen to him.’

«Oh, but I do understand him. I know what his problem is. I went through the same thing myself. I guess what I don’t understand is why he won’t listen to me’.

Five levels of listening:

Ignoring the person — not really listening at all

Pretending to listen — interposing «Yes’, ‘OK’, «Right’ but not paying real attention Selective listening — hearing only those points we want to hear Attentive listening — paying attention and focusing on the words that are being said Empathic listening — listening with intent to understand

Empathic listening

Empathic listening means listening with intent to understand — getting into people’s world, their frame of reference. Empathic listening means listening not just with your ears but with your eyes, looking at people’s body language and listening with your senses, seeking a feeling for what they are meaning. You listen to understand.

When people understand that you are seeking to understand, your communication can move to a new level.

When you first understand people you also can be understood.

Autobiographical responses

The father quoted earlier was listening autobiographically i.e. was assuming that his experience was exactly the same as his sons. This is common to all parents — and supervisors. Because we listen autobiographically we tend to respond in one of four ways:

We evaluate -we either agree or disagree

We probe -we ask questions for our own frame of reference

We advise -we give counsel based on our own experience

We interpret -we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behaviour,

based on our own motives and behaviour

These responses come naturally to us but probing in particular is one of the main reasons parents do not get close to their children. Constantly evaluating, probing etc. from our point of view only serves to irritate people.

So, listen to understand what the other person really means not just what he is saying. When you understand you stand a much better chance of being understood.

b. Questioning

A facilitator should use questions to control and structure a meeting, open up discussion or close it down. Probing questions such as those which begin with who, what, where, when, why, which and how can help open a discussion and expand it. Closed questions, i.e. those which require only a yes or no answer, close down a discussion and can be used to bring a talkative attendee to a halt.

c. Encouraging

It is part of a facilitator’s role to encourage participants to give of their best. You must encourage quieter members to contribute. You can also encourage others by simply shutting up the members who talk the most.

d. Harmonising

Within any meeting, constructive debate can be healthy in that it sparks new ideas and solutions. But personal antagonisms and destructive conflict is unhealthy. It is the role of the facilitator to discourage the former and put a stop to the latter, not always by shutting it up but by channelling it constructively. Everyone must feel that they have had a fair hearing. It is important to use questioning techniques to get members to stick to the facts of the discussion.

e. Building and integrating

A major role of a facilitator is to help participants build on each others ideas and integrate them into a final solution. You can achieve this by clarifying and summarising what each person has said to ensure the others have a clear understanding.

f. Dealing with problem participants

In any group there are bound to be some you perceive as being more of a problem than others.

The silent type says very little, may be quiet, nervous or shy or does not want to express disagreement. It is important to distinguish between the person who only speaks when he or she has something effective to say and the person who is always this way. Handle this latter person with care. Try to draw out opinions or ideas, ask them questions without putting them on the spot or pressurising them.

The rambling type says things like, «I remember when’, or «That reminds me of. This type can take the meeting off at a tangent. They often turn up late and can distract the meeting with their asides and gossip. Keep them to the point and do not allow them to ramble on.

The blocker is always full of reasons why something won’t work, always knocks down good suggestions and demoralise others. They tend to have closed minds and seldom listen. It is not easy to deal with this type; you can seek others opinions first but in the end you may simply have to say something like, «You’ve been totally negative throughout the meeting. We value constructive debate but if all you are going to do is criticise, it’s better that you say nothing!’

The aggressive type knows the right answer from the very beginning, expresses his/her opinion aggressively and can’t understand why you are spending so much time on discussion. Of course, he or she may be right, but it is important that meetings achieve an understanding and it may take others longer to get the right answer. In this case have a word with the person. However, as is more likely to be the case, such a person is not always right, ensure that others have their say first, bringing in a variety of views and this may cause a change of mind.

The sarcastic type usually has a number of one liners which, when occasionally used, can be amusing and lighten up the meeting but, if constantly interjected, can disrupt it. Question them in depth, ask for their views and get them to stick to the facts. Perhaps, speak with them outside the meeting.

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