Employees traditionally have mixed feelings about meetings.
For some staff, a meeting is an integral and important part of their diary but for others, it can send them spiralling into frustration because they feel it’s eating into their time when they would rather be doing something else.
Psychologists describe this feeling as “meeting sickness”, but until recently, it’s a phenomenon that has pretty much been taken for granted. From a psychology point of view, little research has been carried out to work out how to improve employees’ perception of meetings.
Why do meetings have a bad reputation?
For businesses and organisations, meetings are “real work”, where colleagues communicate, collaborate and make important decisions. Unfortunately, some employees don’t recognise the relevance of meetings and feel they have an ambiguous or minor purpose.
An example of this is the manager who must organise a meeting to make a decision on whether to approve a new marketing campaign. The manager emails the relevant staff members to set up the meeting, which has a valid purpose. It is needed to enable the company to reach a goal.
However, in the e-mail, rather than stating clearly, “I need to decide whether to go ahead with the new campaign,” the manager writes, rather vaguely, “Let’s discuss the campaign.”
In psychological terms, although the manager knows the exact purpose and goal of the meeting, the staff don’t know why it has been organised. Immediately, some of the employees see it as being a trivial meeting, which is just going to eat into their time.
Once this belief is in their mind, it’s hard to change their perception of the meeting. Without a recognised goal, one discussion may run into another and the meeting may take five times as long as it would have done, had all delegates known exactly why they were there.
The delegates have been “fooled” into believing the business is too minor to have warranted the meeting in the first place.
How can we change people’s perceptions?
It is vital that business leaders manage the organisation of meetings in a more effective manner. This will prevent employees from getting negative misconceptions about why they are being called to a meeting.
Some psychologists describe four “danger words” which can muddy the waters when it comes to the reasons for calling a meeting. Subconsciously, some staff will shudder if they hear the words “discuss, review, update, plan” in connection with a forthcoming meeting.
They can obscure the fact that a specific decision is required to meet a goal and that this is why the meeting is being called. Psychologists suggest that to avoid employee negativity, managers should ask themselves certain questions before sending out an email requesting attendance at a meeting.
The most important question is to ask yourself what decisions need to be made. If the meeting is being called to decide whether or not to accept a proposal, never send out a fuzzy email saying employees will be “discussing and reviewing” proposals.
Let people know you need to make a concrete decision on whether to approve or reject a proposal. Ensure they know the relevance and importance of the meeting. Make sure you know exactly why you’re calling a meeting, so you can pass this information on to the delegates.
Ask yourself some questions: Is the meeting needed to get feedback to find out if any employees have a problem with the changes? Why does it matter if the staff object? If the policy is beset with objections, is it necessary to revise the new policy before implementing it?
As a manager, once you have a clear picture yourself of why you need the meeting, pass this on to the employees. Never leave them with only a vague idea of why they must attend, as it could very easily enter the realms of being a meeting that gives off negative vibes.
Will the meeting achieve your goals?
Sometimes, we can lose sight of our goals. This is why some psychologists suggest writing your three most important goals on a sheet of paper and carrying it with you wherever you go in the workplace.
When we lose sight of our goals, a molehill can look like a mountain! Something that is relatively trivial can seem important. For example, if you call a meeting with your team and spend an hour discussing the design of a new brand logo, this can seem important.
Before calling this meeting, take a step back and look at your bigger goal: such as winning 100 new clients within the month, for example. Before you submit the meeting invitation, ask yourself, “Will this meeting contribute significantly to the company’s major goals?” If you then realise you don’t need the meeting, don’t call it!
Sadly, some organisations struggle with unproductive meetings, without addressing the root cause. Before you begin organising your next meeting, take a step back and think whether you have a clear vision of what your goals are and how you are sharing those goals with your team.
By dispelling the negative thoughts that the meeting is simply a drain on people’s time, you will find it’s much more productive and has a better chance of reaching those goals.
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