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Good Meetings: Preparing for Potential Conflict

Most of us spend a lot of hours in meetings of all kinds. A friend of mine has repeatedly complained,

“I can’t get any work done. I have too many meetings!”

Unproductive meetings can contribute to employees feeling disengaged or unengaged; so running a good, productive meeting is one step toward increasing employee engagement.

This post is the first in a series of four covering ways to make meetings more productive. The topics we’ll cover include:

We’re tackling the last point first today. We’re all human; we all have emotions; and meetings typically feel like interruptions into our day. This means the potential for disengagement or conflict is relatively high. Hopefully my future posts (hosting, purpose, timing) will help prevent or resolve disengagement in your meetings. For today, let’s focus on preparing for the potential for conflict. (You can also register for an upcoming webinar about resolving conflict.)

Conflict is inevitable. How we deal with it is not.

For most of us, conflict is difficult, particularly when you’re in the midst of it. No matter what your preferred method is to deal with conflict, most of us have had a conflict - perhaps especially at work - that we avoid dealing with until absolutely necessary. Especially in group settings!

A big turning point for me was to realize that a great way to diffuse potential conflicts is to seek to understand the other perspective of the issue. There are at least two different ways to do this: through reflecting on what might make someone feel or desire or need the opposite of what I feel/desire/need, or, through discussion with someone who genuinely feels/desires/needs something different from what I feel/desire/need.

A bonus to approaching conflict with curiosity is that it often helps the other side to behave more cooperatively. Think about it: when you think that one path might be the best route, yet the person with whom you’re making decisions is adamant that the path you like is a terrible choice, how do you feel? Whether you want to dig in and fight or give in and avoid the conflict, you probably end up feeling unhappy with the other person, and possibly those negative feelings get carried into the next interaction you have with them.

One of my favorite tools to help cultivate curiosity is Dr. Marilee Adams' Choice Map. Dr. Adams is a psychologist and author and you can find videos of her talking about the map and about the two paths: learner and judger. The learner path is typically not our default. However, choosing the learner path means you’re open to cooperation, collaboration, and understanding. The judger path often leads to blame and a focus on winner/loser scenarios.

If you’d like to learn more about the power of curiosity to help prepare you for the potential of conflict, as well as other conflict resolution tips, consider joining the interactive webinar we’re running with  Pathz on January 15, 2020, from 11:30-12:15pm.

So how exactly does curiosity help to deal with the potential of conflict?

Being curious about why someone has the opposite approach/need/desire/etc. opens up the conversation; it can deepen it to include underlying interests or needs that are not readily apparent. This deeper level of connection helps everyone participating in the conversation gain a new understanding of the larger issues at stake. Rather than railroading someone, dismissing concerns, or getting defensive, you continue a larger conversation about what implications the decision being discussed will have for all parties.

Using curiosity is just one way to prepare for a potential conflict in a meeting (or in another context). The webinar we’re holding next week will include tools you can use to consider different approaches to conflict, and when to ask for help with a conflict. The next post in this series will focus on acting like a host, and we’ll also tackle timing and purpose. If you have questions or comments about this or other topics, let me know!


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