Prior to any important meetings and one-on-one discussions, particularly when there is a possibility for the conversation to be highly emotional or contentious, it is critical to carefully prepare. Your expenditure of time and energy spent planning for the conversation will almost always pay off in dividends with the other party. You will also earn the respect of your colleagues by running more productive meetings.
However, lack of preparation can become a habitual practice that plagues busy executives and managers due to loaded schedules brimming with back-to-back meetings. Even the most emotionally intelligent leader on the planet cannot expect to walk into one meeting after another, and accomplish anything resembling meaningful alignment without adequate preparation. If you neglect this important step, successful alignment is not only unlikely, but in some decisive cases, it is impossible.
Looking back at some of the most problematic exchanges or conflicts you've had in the past, the need for preparation likely becomes even clearer. Problems can occur when one or more parties become emotionally disarmed or hi-jacked when they were not prepared for the conversation, and, as a result, a great deal of time and energy were required to repair and clean-up the avoidable damage.
The good news is that it only takes a short amount of time to thoughtfully prepare for any type of high-stakes meeting or discussion. Not unlike a pilot's pre-flight checklist, we have devised an outline for you to follow, below. In each case, think through the situation clearly from both your point of view, as well the person or group involved in the conversation.
1. Mindfully choose the right time and place for your meeting.
Generally, very little thought goes into selecting the optimum time and location for important discussions. Yet the time of day is relevant, as research confirms that we all tend to fall into daily "mood patterns." Some people are more energetic and positive in the morning, and perhaps more irritable or low key in the late afternoon. Others will be the exact opposite. Most people fail to adequately consider the power of their mood states, which, in turn, means they fail to adequately manage their moods as they arise. Therefore, it is helpful to be mindfully aware of your own mood patterns and schedule your meetings accordingly. You won't always be able to control this but at the very least if a meeting is occurring during a time of day that isn't typically your best, this is an opportunity to take some additional time to prepare your energy and shift your mindset. Things like taking a walk, stretching, meditation, or calling a friend and laughing over a joke are simple and effective ways to disrupt a less than optimal mood state and alter its course.
Next, consider what the best location might be for the meeting and what sort of environment you wish to create. Environmental influences can have a significant impact on the outcome of your meeting. Factors such as lighting, temperature of the room, potential noise or interruptions, and comfortable seating can make the difference between an amiable and easy exchange versus a tense and difficult conservation.
2. Pause and prepare.
Don't let the simplicity of this step fool you - and do not skip it. Remember that it is vital to take the time to prepare yourself before you have the discussion. This is not only important in order to clarify your message but it can help you become a better listener, as well. When you are fully prepared and well-practiced, you have freed your mind from the labor of what to say, focusing instead on how to say it, and perhaps more significantly, how to manage your emotions while saying it. Here are some of the potential preparation points to consider:
- Be clear about the goal and desired outcome of your meeting. Write it down.
- What information do you wish to share? In what manner should these points be conveyed?
- Have you collected all the relevant facts that you will need? What could come up in conversation that you may wish to refer to?
3. Get your emotional intelligence game on.
By carefully planning any conversation, you maximize your emotional intelligence capability. So once you have prepared the "nuts and bolts" of your discussion, it's best to consider the potential emotional temperature of the meeting. In other words, take stock of the different personalities present and how they might react or view the facts differently, and why. It's also a good idea to plan ahead as to what techniques you will use if your buttons get pushed. Visualizing success, anticipating potential problems, and striving for emotional equanimity throughout the conversation dramatically increases the likelihood of reaching meaningful alignment with the other person or group. This is true even if you must agree to disagree. Alignment isn't about changing the person's mind, it is about increasing your mutual level of understanding through an approach that builds trust and engenders respect.