Do Your Business Meetings Resemble Political Debates?

Do Your Business Meetings Resemble Political Debates?
Image credit: Rebecca Cook | Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich pose together at the start of the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016.

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Like many others, I’m actively watching and following the presidential debates. Bernie! Hillary! Trump! Cruz! While the outlandish behaviors during the recent debates have made for entertaining TV (sad but true) and satirical water-cooler fodder, it occurs to me that those behaviors would also make for alarmingly unproductive meetings at work.

Related: The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

Here are five proof points that your business meetings are operating like political debates and thereby impacting those meetings' effectiveness, as well as jeopardizing your reputation:

1. Questions go unanswered.

People deflect answering a question by redirecting it to someone else or pivoting to an irrelevant topic that they can (or prefer to) speak to.

2. The facts are being twisted.

Speakers who are clever and calculating can manipulate the facts or falsely rewrite history to support their point of view.

3. People are talking 'over' one other.

People aren’t listening to what the other has to say. Instead, a fight is being waged to take up as much air space as possible. Each person keeps repeating his or her same talking points, waiting until someone finally relents from exhaustion.

Related: 10 Tips On Getting the Most Out of Business Meetings

4. The originator loses control of the meeting.

Someone who lacks respect for others and has a bigger louder voice or title hijacks the meeting to make it his (her) own, thus frustrating all participants.

5. It gets personal.

People take aim at one other’s character or abilities rather than focusing on the business issues. The meeting becomes highly subjective, versus objective, and people quickly feel under attack and put off; they then disengage.

Alternately, here are five tips to ensure your meetings are productive and effective:

Set the agenda in advance. People should know why you are calling the meeting, what you hope to accomplish and what key topics are to be covered. This should be included as part of the meeting invite.

Prep people ahead of time. If you are expecting people to contribute, they must be notified beforehand and made aware of their role in the meeting.

Set the tone. From the outset of the meeting, lay out the agenda, the time frame and the intended results. Establish ground rules such as, "Only one person can talk at a time," and stick to it.

Keep control. You called the meeting, and you need to maintain order. Rein people in if they go off on a tangent, and keep everyone focused on the agenda. Don’t allow bad behavior to permeate your meeting.

Recap. Before everyone scatters to the next meeting, make sure to allow five minutes at the end to summarize the decisions made and the actions to be taken moving forward.

Related: 4 Business Meetings You Should Never Take

There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy debates and vigorous discussion in business meetings. However, in most business settings, time and resources are precious commodities that need to be managed accordingly. To be a successful respected leader, you must be able to run effective meetings with a firm hand that can engage, inspire and motivate.

Are you listening, candidates? 

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