Making a difference one meeting at a time

Author: Paul Axtell, Author, Speaker and Corporate Trainer

Most of us walk into meetings concerned about one person – ourselves. We’re not usually looking out for other participants or thinking about how to support the person leading the meeting. We sit where we feel most comfortable, and we speak when we feel like it or not at all.

This is natural, of course, but few people realise how detrimental it can actually be. The mindset you have when entering a meeting will determine how you participate. And how you participate in meetings is incredibly important to your career – it impacts how your colleagues view you and whether or not you’re considered a team player.

I’ve always loved the story about three kinds of people – the ones who make things happen, the ones who watch things happen, and the ones who wonder what happened. There is a fundamental difference between experiencing life directly and watching it from a distance. Why not choose to participate in a way that allows you to make a difference?

Readjust your mindset

So, first things first: double check your attitude. Are you walking in with the right perspective? Here are a few mantras I like to use before heading into a meeting:

  • Everything matters. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right
  • There is no place to get to – right here, right now is where my attention needs to be
  • Every meeting is an opportunity to achieve a certain goal


Don’t try to multitask

Next, give the meeting your focused attention. Distractions are harmful to meetings – and multitasking is a distraction both to the person doing it and to the other people in the group. “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits,” explains Clifford Nass, co-author of a Stanford study on multitasking. “They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks – including multitasking.”

The harm in multitasking is twofold. First, your attention matters to everyone else in the room – especially to the person speaking. Speaking to a group that is not paying attention is distracting at the least and hurtful at worst. Second, if you’re multitasking, you miss the subtleties in what people say and the nonverbal cues in how they say it. If you are distracted, you miss what is not said. You miss being able to build upon their thinking, provide your input, and learn something yourself.

So don’t delude yourself. Be fully present in the meeting and fully focused on the conversation at hand.

Become more self-aware

While it’s difficult to watch yourself as you perform, it is possible to become more self-aware of how you behave during a meeting. You can reflect on your speaking right after you finish. You can be aware of how fully you listen and pay attention. You can be aware of your posture and nonverbal cues.

In addition, as you focus your awareness, watch for these nine common mistakes:

  1. Speaking more often or longer than necessary.
  2. Providing more detail or examples than people need.
  3. Using humour that undermines somebody else
  4. Using nonverbal behaviour that is distracting or suggests inattention, for instance being on your phone
  5. Being blunt to the point where people see it as uncivil
  6. Not being willing to take action on any of the follow up points after meetings
  7. Resisting someone else’s comments rather than working to understand them
  8. Not speaking up when the conversation is off track or unclear


It’s easy to drift into the habit of not preparing and participating in meetings, especially when we are particularly busy. However this can damage your relationship with your colleagues and your workplace reputation, so readjust your mind-set and make every meeting count.

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