What is a Meeting?
Some meetings are casual and inconsequential, or their relevance is immediate and short-lived - for example helping an old woman across the street or purchasing cinema tickets from a box-office clerk. However, encounters with people you are likely to see again have greater significance in shaping your life experience, and even beyond that, your involvements with some of them are significant factors in the achievement of goals and enjoyment of success. Let's consider these types of meetings, particularly those where two or more people get together by phone or in person, and interact within the constraints of a code or culture. Business meetings are a clear example.
Generally a meeting is useful; it always serves participants in some way or another, yet that service may be obscured and indirect. There is always a lot happening that defies definition or understanding, subtle unconscious exchanges that have more to do with body language and tone of voice than the spoken or written word. So even meetings without much in the way of decision or information-exchange may, for example, function to deepen rapport or ease tensions that otherwise could escalate into resentments.
The fact is that a meeting will always be strongly influenced by human feelings. It's inescapable - so it needs to be addressed properly. Participants come with their personal history, which predisposes them towards attitudes and stances, and even prevents them from hearing what is actually said. The spin they put on a message can create a profound distortion of the meaning intended. To reduce this risk, measures must be taken that soften the atmosphere and promote empathy and awareness.
A meeting must be considered real and important, otherwise it is a distraction and counterproductive. It is a question of involvement. If we experience involvement in any event, then that event has meaning for us; if not then the urge is strong within us to be free of it - if not in body then at least in mind - so we are likely to drift away and lose focus. This will undermine the concentration of others.
All participants are necessarily influencing and influenced by all the others. This is certain even if the effect is hidden and unconscious. What comes out of a meeting is therefore a combined output of all who are there, a co-creation in which all the ingredients play their different parts in the quality of the result. Whether seen or unseen, a meeting's outcome -for good or ill - will reflect in some part every one of its members and their condition and aspirations during the event.
There is always, on some level, a conflict of interest. We want this - because without friction there can be no significant progress. It is by overcoming difficulties that we strengthen our purpose and refine our vision. So this inescapable tension has to be anticipated and dealt with, or pressure will escalate beyond the point at which it is productive. Each meeting therefore is something of an exercise in good manners. With courtesy, opposing points of view can be discussed healthily and to the satisfaction of both parties. Often a contrary position is adopted without conviction, simply to evaluate it, or to stimulate the clarification of the first proposal through vigorous debate.
All meetings have uncertain outcomes. It is never possible with absolute certainty to know who will be powerfully engaged, or which issues will dominate the procedures. So they are by nature risky. Yet risk is healthy and natural, and is matched by trust - trust that we will be able to find a response that takes full advantage of unexpected opportunities. Any organization that is consistently biased towards control, and disdains risk, is sure to be limited - and is probably stagnant. Life is not like that.
The 7 aspects discussed here are present in every meeting, and need to be understood and allowed for if we are to optimize the use of our precious time and resources.
This article was written according to the 7 Words procedure.
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