How to think more in meetings

by | Jun 19, 2017 | Blog | 0 comments

Team Meeting In Creative Office

How do you set up your staff meetings to better balance thinking with doing?

One answer is to ask more questions.

When you ask thoughtful, expansive questions, you encourage participants to reflect individually as well as with each other.

Even better, as they think, they can gain self-generated insights, which will make new connections in their brain. These insights can improve their critical thinking, create better ideas, and inspire them to take actions. (For more about this, see Why an “aha!” helps behavior change.)

In organizations, our preference is to do and then celebrate getting things done, especially considering the fast pace work requires today. Deep thinking can get deep-sixed.

Yet we need to spend time thinking critically before we take action. In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, the situations we face are often more intricate and unpredictable than they initially appear. If we act in haste, we may make a less than ideal move.

If you favor critical thinking, you can incorporate any or all of the three deep-thinking questions that follow.

However, if you would rather boost your mood and improve your sense of self-worth, consider devoting staff meeting time to bask in effusive praise heaped upon you by your subordinates, as President Trump did in his first full cabinet meeting in mid-June. For an account of how this worked, read this New York Times article. You also can watch this YouTube clip.

Now for those who prefer pursuing curiosity over flattery, the questions are:

1. If you could wave a magic wand and get whatever you wanted what would that be? This question, which is an adaptation of behavior designer Dr. BJ Fogg’s magic wand question, helps you step out of the day-to-day muck, focus on the future and think big. As a result, you can think more creatively.

2. What are you struggling with? The beauty of this question, courtesy of Dr. Carol Dweck, is twofold. First, it makes it okay to admit to your peers and your boss that things aren’t perfect and that even as a successful leader, you face challenges. Second, it helps you and your peers and boss foster a growth mindset in which you embrace a love of learning and experimenting. Those with a growth mindset, as opposed to fixed, believe that you always need to be developing your brain and talents through dedication and more hard work to become more resilient as you strive to accomplish.

3. How do you still know this is still working? (Or relevant or needed?) This question, which I like to ask, helps people pause and consider the extent to which it is beneficial to continue to honor past decisions and actions. Since our brain is wired for inattention and inertia, it’s often easier to be a mental couch potato and stick with the status quo rather than stop and query whether what you and others are doing still makes sense.

For example, when I asked this at a client’s meeting, they changed an approval process to stop at the VP level rather than include the CEO. Asking the CEO to review, approve and sign these requests had become a huge bottleneck, wasting his time and slowing work by several weeks. Another client who answered this question realized they were spending inordinate amounts of time preparing reports on lagging indicators that no one was reviewing, which also was a waste of resources.

Feel free to experiment with other questions too. You’re limited only by your imagination.

When people know you’re sincerely curious and will listen carefully to what they say, you’ll strike a better balance between thinking and doing. You’ll hear thoughtful answers, which will help you figure out the best actions to take.

And who knows, people may even think better of you. That’s certainly true in social situations. If you show interest in people instead of talking all about you, People Will Like You More If You Ask Them Questions as this Science of Us post explains.

Whatever the setting and whatever the size—a small party, meeting, or convention—I know I’d rather ask questions than grovel for praise. The answers to my questions can inform, surprise, or confirm my positions without turning any brown eyes blue or noses brown.

What are some of your favorite questions? …. Or compliments? …..


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