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Nail Meetings Down Tight

Nail Meetings Down Tight

Meetings can have lots of loose flow to them. They start a little late because people show up a little late. There’s that spot where you haven’t seen Jumpha in a while and you ask about her children. You pass out the agenda and people face-down a while browsing it and shuffling papers. Some folks are reading and answering mail via their BlackBerrys.

I think that’s all crap. Meetings are often like dental visits. You should go in, get scraped, picked, rinsed, and cleaned, go home with a toothbrush and a sixth month appointment and that’s that.

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You can fantasize all you want about the whiteboard meetings with all the gorgeous visualizations and all that, but those are truly the rarity, aren’t they? My early subscription to Fast Company magazine had me fooled for a while. I started believing that meetings were gorgeous, luscious events, where people really plotted out the future of the company. Bull.

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Meetings are where people hash out status, assign work, and make snap decisions. They should be treated that way. And yes, I know your place is culturally different. I know you’re only one woman. I know that you’re not the boss. Here are some tips for when YOU get to lead the meeting.

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  • Publish the agenda as early as possible. At the top, state: “This is the agenda for this meeting. We will review items on this list ONLY. If you would like to propose an agenda item not yet covered, please do so in the reply. An adjusted agenda will be sent out. “
  • At the bottom of the agenda, set the rules of the meeting: “Your time is important. I value your time and respect your attendance. Please turn off all mobile devices for the duration of the meeting. Please agree to stick to the agenda. Please refrain from sidebar conversations.”
  • At the beginning of the meeting, start regardless of whether all the people you need are there. It only takes missing a few beginnings, especially if you refuse to go back, to get people to arrive promptly. Once they understand the nature of your meetings, they’ll get the clue.
  • Start every meeting with the briefest of “house rules” conversations: “We’re going to meet quickly on this specific agenda. I’m going to talk, and you’re going to confirm the information we have here. There’s a question of next steps that we’ll keep open for discussion. Please, no cell phones – turn them off- and no sidebar conversations. One speaker at a time. Thanks. Let’s begin.”
  • Be pleasant, but be the authority. Gently remind people that the agenda is there, that the meeting is what it is. There shouldn’t be discovery at this flavor of meeting.
  • Never go over. If you still have agenda but no time, stop the conversation. Thank everyone for their time. Get up. They can stay, but you should walk out. Don’t bend on this. You’re making people late for the next meeting.
  • If you can, finish early.
  • Give people every chance between the meetings to be heard. Those who blather the most at meetings are just afraid that you don’t get their point. Go to them personally, one on one, and listen to them as long as you can stand. Reflect their words back. Show them you know what they’re saying.
  • Publish meeting notes right away. They should be very little more than the agenda with “confirmed” next to every point, and/or maybe a small block of notes at the bottom. If you are all in the same building, consider just photocopying your version of the notes and handing it to everyone. If an electronic copy is needed, be brief. Do not publish volumes of information. Meeting agendas are status queues, not logs for the meeting. (One peeve of mine with most project managers, formal or informal, is that they write mini novels when a status is all that’s necessary).

You ARE the authority at meetings you call. You can bring this culture to your company fairly quickly, because it shows respect for people’s time, a willingness to call the meeting and disperse quickly, and a strong sense of knowing what you know. Meetings where you seem prepared and act as the authority are always more pleasant for all involved. I strongly urge you to give these tips a try and write back.

–Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and productivity at [chrisbrogan.com] . He writes about new media and content at Grasshopper Factory. Meet Chris Brogan at PodCamp Boston or at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo show in California.

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Last Updated on August 4, 2020

The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to master the Gentle Art of Saying No:

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1. Value Your Time

Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”

2. Know Your Priorities

Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.

3. Practice Saying No

Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

4. Don’t Apologize

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.

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5. Stop Being Nice

Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets.

Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

6. Say No to Your Boss

Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no,” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning.

But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

7. Pre-Empting

It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

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“Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

8. Get Back to You

Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them:

“After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

At least you gave it some consideration.

9. Maybe Later

If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

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“This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.

10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

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Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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