In the leadership development programmes we run, we have a session called “Influence in Meetings”.
Essentially we place a group of people around a table, provide them with a problem to solve and then we watch what happens. At the end of the session we ask people to rate who they believe had the greatest impact on the outcome of the discussion.
This is what we have learned:
- The person who speaks the most is generally not the most influential.
- The person who speaks the loudest is almost never the most influential.
- Saying nothing is never good. If there is nothing new to add just agreeing or not agreeing is better than being invisible.
- People who make space for others to talk adds to positive influencing. A conscious effort to include others is helpful in adding voices to the decision.
- People who hold back, reflect and then summarize, help take the discussion forward, and add to positive influencing.
- Interrupting is almost always bad.
- Don’t confuse administration (like timekeeping or record keeping) with influence.
- It is useful for someone to create structure, for example “Why don’t we get everyone views and then make a shortlist” — that’s positive.
- Rambling is rarely useful — being succinct is positive influencing.
- Any distracting behaviours (like whispering to person next to you) is poor influencing.
- Good influencers are conscious of verbal and non-verbal reinforcers. They amplify their ideas that get the “ummms” and nods and “yeahs”, but they don’t perseverate on the ones where the reception is lukewarm.
- Good influencers create some context when they start talking e.g. “The three most important aspects of client retention are…..and therefore we should be careful to focus on ABC…” or “e-learning is the 2nd fastest modality of staff development — given that, we should probably ….”.
- Guiding meetings towards making decisions is useful rather than just adding more content. Its useful know how to wind discussions towards points of convergence.
- Good influencers can act as filters, helping park issues that have little relevance to the discussion or direction.
- Persistent naysayers can deflate meetings — although critical thinking is good, just being a troubleshooter without offering alternatives is less useful.