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How To Prevent Conflict And Polarization At Meetings

Polarization Brinkman

Communication expert, Dr. Rick Brinkman, shares his human behavior insights and practical communication strategies for making the most of every business meeting.

With all the conflict and political polarization in the world it’s easy to feel helpless. Our politicians and one-sided media keep a drumbeat for their own gain to keep us polarized. Ironically when James Madison designed the constitution it was to create a structure where people could disagree but have an intelligent discussion and remain friends. In the election to the first congress Madison’s close friend James Monroe ran against him but even then Madison maintained his friendship in public and private with Monroe.

The good news is you’re not helpless because peace begins with us and especially our relationships with the people and meetings we can’t stand. This article will show you how discuss touchy subjects, avoid conflict and integrate points of view in the meeting context as outlined in my book; Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, Meet Less and Do More.

If you want to discuss a hot topic and integrate differing points of view consider this analogy, your right eye and your left eye see from two different points of view. When your brain synthesizes those two points of view, you see three dimensions. Imagine your eyes arguing over which point of view is correct. That’s absurd, but it’s what people do all the time and it’s what political parties do.  When we synthesize each other’s viewpoint we suddenly see a bigger, fuller picture. I call that “holographic thinking”.

At a meeting the first issue we must solve is the fact that some people talk too much and others not at all. When people don’t participate you lose holographic thinking. The more passive people will not compete to be heard. They will just yield to the more vocal assertive ones. But often the assertive people are not really listening to each other. They are listening for breathing changes and when the current speaker stops to breath, they jump in and say what they think. Even worse it can lead to repetition, hearing the same thing over and over from the same people, which can lead to escalating emotions, further driving the more passive people into their quiet retreat.  There is no hologram. This results in ideas being pushed through by an assertive minority opinion that does not integrate the whole.

A meeting must have a speaking order which can be voluntary or circular. In a voluntary, people raise a finger and are put on a visible list such as on a white board. All you have to do is raise a finger. The aggressive people are no longer competing to be heard and even the most passive person will be willing to raise a finger. What I like even better, if there are not too many people, is a circular order where you go around the table, or maybe alphabetical order by first name. Some people may pass if they have nothing to say. Or they may say, “come back to me” as the circle continues. This ensures you hear from everyone.

Whichever you use, there should always be a time limit for each time to speak, i.e. 2 minutes. This prevents verbose people like Know-it-Alls from taking the group down unnecessary tangents.

The next thing to put in place to in place is flight recording. Its purpose is to make sure you do not let a good idea get away. Flight recording simply means writing the essence of what people say in a way everyone can see it. Using visual recording will exponentially enhance people’s ability to see the hologram and make it easy to follow up with actions based on the meeting.

Let’s examine the differences between auditory (verbal) communication that you hear and visual communication that you see. Visual communication has three superpowers that auditory communication does not have:

  1. It remains over time.
  2. You can see a totality of concepts.
  3. It depersonalizes points of view.

When a person says something it exists for a moment. When we write it so we all see it remains over time. The person is sure they have been heard because they can see it and see that everyone else does too. This tends to cut down on people repeating themselves.  As a bulleted list starts to form with everyone’s points of view, we start to see all the factors at once which brings the hologram into focus. Plus, it depersonalizes the points of view, it’s not one versus the other but everyone contributing their piece of the puzzle.

When you put a speaking order and flight recording in place you will be amazed how much you can get done, at a higher level and turn conflict into cooperation. And in Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, you will find so much more.

 

Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.

Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.