Meeting/Group Discussion Skills
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LEARNING OBJECTIVES:

  • To understand the important role meetings play and the significance of your performance at meetings
  • To learn about behaviours displayed at meetings
  • To develop more effective meeting skills

1.         Introduction

1.1        Definition of meeting

A meeting can be defined as a gathering of two or more people who interact face to face, verbally and nonverbally, to achieve an expected outcome and are interdependent on each other.

Clearly meetings are not always formal occasions held in company boardrooms but happen whenever people get together to work on something, even a tutorial assignment.

The most important thing is that meetings should be structured, that is everybody should be working towards the expected outcome in some sort of orderly manner.

1.2        Time spent in meetings

Meetings need to be managed as effectively as possible because it is a fact that managers and executives spend a great deal of time in them.

  • Average professional/manager                 > 25%
  • Upper-and middle-level manager              > 40%
  • Some senior executives                          4 days/week

Thus clearly it is important to make meetings worthwhile. To ensure this you need to develop good meeting skills, which will:

  • make the meetings you attend more worthwhile.
  • help you to get ahead in your career.

1.3        Things meetings reveal

Whenever you arrange or attend a meeting the way you communicate in that group setting tells other people how competent you are. Other people judge your communication and people skills during every meeting you attend, whether you are the leader or a participant. They can also judge your knowledge and your ability to solve problems while working as part of a team.

1.4        The importance of meetings

Meetings are an important management tool for information sharing and decision making in an organization. Effective meetings:

  • enable members to contribute personally
  • allow various points of view to be presented
  • give participants a sense of involvement and importance

All this increases the sense of commitment. Staff feel their point of view has been considered as part of the decision making process. This means that they will be more committed to making decisions work.

2.         Various meeting behaviours 

At any meeting people may behave in various ways. There are mainly three categories of behaviours which are important in this context.

2.1        Task facilitating behaviours 

These are good for the group as they help the meeting to move through each step or operation. They will help the group to achieve the purpose of the meeting by, for example: 

·         Initiating ― getting the group started on a line of enquiry

·         Giving or seeking information ― focusing on information relevant to issues facing the group

·         Coordinating ― pointing out the relationships between ideas, clarifying issues or summarizing what has been done

·         Setting procedure ― suggesting decision making procedures to help move the group towards a goal 

2.2        Group maintenance behaviours 

These are behaviours which support and encourage contributions from group members because they create a positive atmosphere which helps the group work well together and feel good about working together. In other words, these behaviours take care of the emotional and psychological needs of the group. They include things such as: 

·         Encouraging ― drawing other members out by showing verbal and non-verbal support, praise or agreement

·         Harmonising ― reconciling differences among group members – perhaps by

      mediation or the use of humour to reconcile differences

·         Compromising ― offering to give way on a point in order to reach a mutually acceptable decision 

2.3        Self-oriented behaviours 

Self-oriented group members are mainly focused on fulfilling their own personal needs. They do not attend to the needs of the group. They may do any of the following: 

·         Controlling ― dominating others by showing superiority or authority

·         Withdrawing ― retiring from the group, being silent or refusing to deal with a particular aspect of the group’s work

·         Seeking attention ― calling attention to themselves and demanding recognition from others

·         Diverting ― trying to focus the group discussion on topics of interest to them rather than the group

·         Excluding ― deliberately ignoring some group members, either because they do not like them or they are not interested in what those people have to say

·         Belittling ― not giving respect to other people’s contributions

·         Blocking ― constantly raising objections and bringing up the same issue after the group has considered or rejected it, thus delaying progress towards the goal 

So obviously, for a productive and successful meeting you need to have group maintenance and task facilitating behaviours, not self-oriented ones. 

3          Responsibilities of a meeting participant 

Remember you have a lot at stake at a meeting. You are there because the leader feels you have something to contribute so you must be an active participant. Your involvement begins before you enter the meeting. 

3.1        Prepare carefully 

·         Study the agenda ― spend some time thinking about what will be discussed. 

·         Anticipate ― think about what you need to do and to bring to the meeting. 

·         List questions ― think about what you need to ask. 

·         Prepare your case ― come prepared to support your point of view. Prepare data or a brief presentation if you think you may be called on to give one. 

All this is task facilitating behaviour. 

3.2        Contribute positively 

·         Be punctual 

·         Speak up ― offer any information that you have which is relevant to the discussion. If the issue is one you really care about you should say something early on in the discussion. Research has shown that a person who contributes early in the discussion is more likely to influence the subsequent discussion and eventual decision.      

      Whenever you speak, build on other people’s ideas, show relationships between ideas, clarify ideas or                       summarise what has been said so far and show where you ideas fit in. All these are task facilitating behaviours.       Avoid withdrawing or controlling. 

·         Follow the agenda ― focus only on issues on the agenda, which has been set to lead you to achieving the goal of the meeting.  Do not bring up non-agenda items, comment on other people’s non-agenda items or divert the discussion to topics which interest you rather than those which are relevant to the task. 

3.3        Listen actively 

When you are part of a team the way you listen can be as important as what you say. You must keep alert even if parts of the discussion do not seem relevant to you. You need to concentrate so you have a complete grasp of what is going on. A lot of time is wasted in meetings because participants misunderstand when they do not listen carefully so everything has to be explained again. This is the task facilitating aspect. 

Listening carefully is also group maintenance behaviour. When you show others that you are listening carefully you are encouraging them to contribute positively because you are showing them that you value their contribution. 

·         Look interested ― keep a relaxed alert posture. Avoid fidgety behaviour and nervous gestures. If you must do something, take notes. This shows the speaker you are concentrating on what he is saying. 

·         Maintain eye contact ― project a friendly, trustworthy image. 

·         Welcome contributions ― even if you disagree with something show you welcome the contribution. That is good group maintenance behaviour. Ask questions if you are unclear about something but avoid cutting a speaker off.  If you don’t listen, people will not speak – then you lose all their ideas, including the good ones. 

You should put as much effort into listening as you put into speaking. 

3.4                Act promptly

Make sure that you identify your personal responsibilities and do what you have to do after a meeting. Delivering the goods is a very important task facilitating behaviour.

4          Responsibilities of a meeting leader 

If you take care of all your responsibilities as a participant at meetings you will hopefully move up through your organization and then you will find yourself chairing meetings. As chairperson you will have even greater influence on the success of meetings.   
                                                                 

4.1        Plan, inform and prepare
 

·         Consider the purpose ― decide if a meeting objective can in fact best be achieved at a meeting. If not, do not call a meeting. Meetings are expensive. 

·         Fix a time ― remember certain times are better for more effective meetings. The best times are mid-morning or mid-afternoon (and mid-week days are better than Monday or Friday).  

·         Fix a place ― make sure it is conducive to the goals of the meeting and portrays the image you want to portray if you are meeting clients. 

·         Draw up the team ― make sure you call all the essential people. Group communication works best when everyone present has a reason for being there and can really contribute. 

      Limit the group to no more than 10 or 12 people.  

·         Send a notice ― inform people of the time, date, place and purpose of the meeting. 

A clear purpose statement ensures that the meeting does in fact have a definite purpose in your head and the heads of the participants. 

·         Prepare the agenda ― list the topics to be discussed in order of discussion. Sometimes a time schedule is given so that most time gets spent on the most important items. Most meetings are too long because the discussion is allowed to meander on. 

      Arrange the items in ascending then descending order of complexity (according
      to Tropman’s agenda bell).

     The best meetings do not last more than 1 or 1½ hours so do not try to cover too much. 

4.2        Maintain structure and control 

·         Start punctually ― do not waste the time of people who are there by waiting for latecomers. The punctual people will come late next time. 

·         Restate purpose ― focus the group’s attention on the specific tasks you hope to accomplish. 

·         Keep the group focused ― use the agenda to keep the meeting on track. For example:

­        Use group maintenance behaviours to stop participants engaging in self-oriented behaviours.

­        Use task facilitating behaviours like summarising or asking questions to help long-winded participants get to the point.

­        Watch out for emotional build ups and be alert to signs of anger and frustration. Never take sides – ask for a third party’s viewpoint. 

  • Mobilise the group ― encourage everyone to participate. You can ask direct questions to quiet people and try to control voluble people.

You need to employ group maintenance behaviour even more as the leader than as a participant. Always look interested and appear pleased when a participant makes
a contribution, even if you disagree with it.

What all this means really is that the leader should look for opportunities to make group members feel good about themselves and their contributions ― group maintenance behaviours, while helping the group with questions, summaries and redirections to achieve the goal of the meeting ― task facilitating behaviours.

4.3        Record the minutes 

·         Appoint a minute taker 

·         Functions of minutes

­        to provide a permanent written record of the proceedings. This ensures there is a common understanding of decisions made and that these decisions cannot be ignored or changed by the chairperson or anyone else.

­        to remind participants what happened at the meeting

­        to help those not present understand what took place. This is especially helpful for a newcomer to a company or project. 

·         Style of minutes

­        Narrative ― very detailed, summarises all the points, records names and views and reports even suggestions not adopted.

­        Resolution ― records only decisions made

­        Action ― contains more information than resolution style but only summarises the main points of a discussion. These minutes are future oriented with an action column which highlights the names of people from whom some action is required.  

·         Whatever style is used all minutes must show:

­        Time, date and place of the meeting

­        Names of those present, absent and chairperson

­        Some account of the discussion of each item on the agenda in the same order as the agenda

­        Time of ending 

In future, hopefully nobody will ever say this about any meetings you attend: 

            “A meeting is an event where people take minutes and waste hours!”

Further readings

Recommended texts

1.  Bovee, Courtland L. & Thill, John V. (2005): Business Communication Today. 8th Edition. Prentice-Hall International Inc. -- Pages 33 - 61.

2.  Locker, Kitty O. (2003):  Business and Administrative Communication. 6th Edition.  Irwin/McGraw-Hill. -- Pages 316 - 346.

Online resources

1.  Getting the Most out of Group Work by Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore.

2.  Group Work and Collaborative Writing by Brian A. Connery, Campus Writing Center, and John L. Vohs, Department of Rhetoric and Communication, UC Davis.

3.  'Meetings are Boring' and Other Myths by Paula Gamonal, Ravenworks Information Center.

4.  Why Teams Fail by Interaction Associates, Inc.

5.  Dealing with Negative People by Interaction Associates, Inc.
 


 

 

  

Content by Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore.  
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This site was last updated on 10 July 2007.