I walked into what I thought was going to be an easy one-on-one status meeting with the project manager for a customer to find a room full of individuals. The meeting started off fine, but quickly turned into a fast-paced, high stakes, rapid fire, litany of questions. At one point, I thought my company was going to completely lose the project as questions and suggestions came from all different directions.
It's easy to let even a simple meeting get out of hand. Maintaining control is important; the room can sense when you are flustered, you easily forget your train of thought and control over the outcome.
I used some of the following techniques to maintain control over the meeting and bring the team back to a successful conclusion:
Slow It Down
It is common to increase your speech when you are nervous. To truly connect with your audience, you must slow down instead and control the speed of the discussion.
Slowing down the pace of your words and inserting meaningful pauses allows your audience to catch-up and process what you are saying. Meetings and negotiations easily get out of hand when each side tries to get the next thought out without actually listening to what the other party is saying. Slowing down the conversation allows questions and concerns to be addressed and avoids the misunderstandings that often lead to a high-pressure situation.
Turn the Conversation Around
A technique that facilitates understanding is turning the conversation around. Do so by repeating the other person's point. This confirms that you heard what you think they were trying to tell you. Suggest they tell you more about how they see their suggestion playing out.
You can ask, "tell me how you would do that?" This gives them control of the conversation, lets them know you are listening and gives you additional information on where the disconnect in thinking might exist.
I used this technique after my company had attempted to complete a project in an unreasonable timeline to meet the customer's needs. The project had been painful and the customer was unhappy. When I asked her how she would have approached the project differently, she admitted that she wouldn't have. Once she thought it through, she conceded that the approach was the best given the circumstances.
Re-Affirm that You Are Working Towards the Same Goal
A common problem in high-pressure situations is that the parties forget they are working towards a common goal. Simply remind everyone that you are trying to reach the same objective. This technique allows everyone to lower their guard and start listening to each other's point objectively. Pointing out this fact eliminates the feeling of competition and reinforces teamwork and collaboration.
Telling It Like It Is
Be honest. Don't be afraid to be direct and to the point when communicating.
When stakes get high, a common reaction is to start watching your words. But this is the exact opposite of what is needed when negotiations breakdown. Meaning is lost as individuals start to dance around the real problem.
Telling it like it is moves the conversation forward.
Be Okay with Saying "I don't know"
Realize that telling your audience "I don't know" is okay. Not only is "not knowing" okay, it makes you more approachable and allows others room to be vulnerable. Saying "I don't know" or admitting that you need to ask someone else on your team provides room for a follow up and time to diffuse a high-pressure situation.
Master these methods to give you more control in your meetings, especially when the stakes are high.