Most meetings don’t matter. While you may dismiss this reality as “part of the job,” think about how 15% of your work time, according to consulting firm Bain & Co, is spent in those time-sucking meeting. Change needs to occur and I have an idea.

But first, we need to be clear about how bad the problem is. For most of the meetings you are called into, being there is no different than being absent, except for the fact that less air and carbon dioxide gets exchanged, fewer eyes get rolled and your doodling of that cool logo you would use if you ever get up the courage to open your own business remains in your mind, not on the notepad sitting blank in front of you.

If you are like most of us, you know as you walk into a meeting – often 3 minutes or so late because the coffee maker wouldn’t work or it took you that long to talk yourself into going because “I have to” —  that you’re about to waste valuable time. It’s time you could be fighting fires (do firefighters have meetings?) or planning or the list could go on and on.

Meetings as Punishment

One person I know scheduled weekly staff meetings (the worst of the worst) for 4 p.m. routinely, figuring that if he was going to waste an hour that the best one to waste was the last one of his work day.

Another person I know attends a Friday afternoon meeting every week, even his vacation weeks, because it’s required. Talk about punitive and counter-productive. No one’s going to bring their A game to a Friday afternoon meeting, where every debate means that much longer until the weekend.

Holding a good meeting these days is challenging. Getting the right time, the right people, the right agenda, the right tone to encourage an open exchange, and on and on. I have coached leaders and teams on these matters.

A New Approach

A few weeks ago, I shared my strategy for creating better meetings on our award-seeking podcast, The Serious Soft Skills Podcast. Compressing meetings to the bare essentials seems to encourage the most effectiveness. I’ve tried stand-up meetings, fewer meetings with longer agendas, more meetings with shorter agendas and various other techniques.

But the Rule of Fours seems to work best. My Rule of Fours suggests that whatever time you are going to devote to meetings, cut it by four. If it’s slated for one hour, then cut it to 15 minutes. If it’s a half hour, then cut it to 7½ minutes. (If it’s a 15-minute meeting, scrap it. Do one-on-one, in-person meetings instead.)

This rule, which I have shared with a few people to good results, works for several reasons. Most importantly, the Rule of Fours shows you mean business. You want to get to the core of the matters at hand. No chit chat, no long stories, no bad jokes, no grandstanding, no crazy PowerPoint presentations. This approach doesn’t even allow for time to dim the lights, which is a guarantee for a bad meeting.

Taming the Meeting Madness

Second, this rule forces you focus on one, maybe two, main topics. Too often, with the exception of a brainstorming meeting where wild ideas are encouraged, teams take on too much in one meeting. It’s all issues on the deck, when focused meetings show success.

Third, if people have booked the hour for a meeting and get out after 15 minutes, they actually might have time to work on their action items from the meeting. Too often we leave meetings frustrated and after planned, which forces us to consign any action items we had at the meeting to later. If we even document them at all.

In our hyper-competitive business climate, wasted time costs us dearly. Making meetings matter again could help you regain the advantage you are seeking against your competitors.

Communicating with people who are not in the same location as you for a meeting is complicated. As more meetings occur with people working from home and in remote offices, ensuring that online meetings and conference calls remain effective takes on new importance.

These challenges came up after I spoke to a group about how a speaker can take charge of the room, how to establish and keep focus, methods for assessing your audience’s understanding and interest, and other keys to effective communication. Afterward, an attendees asked if I had any tips for when attendees aren’t in the room where the meeting is taking place.

The issue is that so many of the cues we use to guide whether our thoughts and ideas are reaching the audience disappear when we cannot easily or interact closely with others in the audience.

Altering the Feedback Loop

(In the case of this meeting, two people listened to my presentation online. And in retrospect, I didn’t engage them at all, nor did the team-building activity we did in the conference room work well for them because they could not participate. Had I known in advance of the remote participants, I would have changed the activity up. Now I know to ask in advance.)

The big question is how do you overcome the fact that you cannot use eye contact or body language as clues for someone’s interest or engagement?

You have to shift your approach. Rather than using your eyes, you have to use your mouth and ears more. Instead of seeing if your words are landing as you hoped, you have to solicit from the remote attendees whether they are landing. Moreover, you have to listen to what they say in response to inquiries, as well as what they may not say.

Tips for Remote Attendee Feedback

Here are some hints for getting the same information as eye contact and body language offer when one or more people is outside the room:

1.    Ask along the way if the people online are following and if they hear. Invite them to speak up if they get lost or if people are talking over one another.

2.    Have someone coordinate with remote attendees. The group I spoke to assigned a member to monitor written messages from remote attendees.

3.    Specifically and strategically invite feedback from out-of-the-room attendees.“John, do you have any thoughts on the topic?” or even “Anything to add, John?” Not only will this ensure they can contribute, but it will keep them on notice that they could be called at any time.

4.    Go slower. People who are not in the room are not going to get the hand movements and other gestures and facial expressions you use so their ability to process the information you are sharing may be slower. Slow down to give them time to process.

5.    Tailor presentations to the realities. People who are out of the room cannot be in small groups so those types of activities are best left out. Nor can they easily see slides that are presented so provide them with the slide deck in advance.

6.    Ask for takeaways. One way to ensure that everyone is engaged is to tell them at the beginning that near the end, you plan to ask everyone for one takeaway from the presentation.

This old teacher’s trick works to keep everyone engaged because they now realize they have to say something intelligent about the presentation. They will listen more intently because they know they have to share. No one wants to fail at this test or say something wrong or silly.

Dealing with an audience that’s in more than one location is an acquired skills. But as more people work remotely, the demand on being an effective communicator in spite of this challenge will only increase.

They it’s not what you know, but who you know. We are going to discuss that theory and much more as we look at why relationships are at the core of all business these days and how our ability to manage them is paramount if we are going to be successful in practically any job.

In today’s episode, cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss:

  • How changes in the work world necessitate building more relationships
  • How to manage relationships
  • Examples of well managed and poorly managed relationships
  • The benefits of managing relationships with workers, former colleagues, bosses and others

Here are some hints for better managing business relationships:

  • Make amends. If you have a bad business relationship, fix it. Now.
  • Scroll through your phone contacts every week or two. I sometimes see someone’s contact information that I haven’t talked to and have called or emailed them right away. Everything happens for a reason.
  • Find beneficial ways to interact. I like to send articles to people that I think they might find valuable. They seem to like it. It shows I am thinking of them, and it’s easy enough to send an article.
  • Just say hey. Sometimes it’s great to hear from someone who you haven’t heard from in a while. I had a former coworker who I helped mentor contact me recently out of the blue. She told me she missed “my first mentor.” It made my day.
  • Use LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. It allows me to know what other people are up to, to be able to contact them when they change jobs or locations and it’s all free. I like to see who is celebrating birthdays, job anniversaries or whatever else. I respond often, and it pays off. Ten minutes in the morning or evening can yield great fruit with LinkedIn, or do it every Sunday night.
  • Be grateful. If all else fails, contact someone at least once a week who has had a profound effect on your career and tell him or her that. Believe me, if that’s where the conversation starts, it will end much better – for both of you.

Have you joined The Soft Skills Revolution at The Soft Skills Revolution? Why not? We are giving resources out for free to people interested in better understanding their soft skills. It’s free and it’s easy. Just provide your email and away you go. Nothing to buy or sell. Jut go to thesoftskillsrevolution.com.

Next Week

Next week, we will tackle another soft skill. New episodes come out each Wednesday. Until next week, thanks for listening, good day and good soft skills.

 

 

Being unable to accept criticism can hurt our ability to advance in our careers, relationships and in life. We will discuss this complicated soft skill and give hints for delivering and responding to it better.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham talk about a number of important issues, including:

  • Why the soft skill of accepting criticism can be difficult to hear
  • How accepting criticism can benefit us and our development
  • What happens when we don’t accept criticism
  • Helping you versus hurting you with criticism
  • When to discount people’s criticism
  • Filtering out the good criticism and retaining ownership
  • Finding people to trust and value who give you constrictive feedback
  • How to give constructive criticism
  • When to table someone’s criticism
  • “The Sandwich Method” of criticism
  • When a cooling off period pays off for everyone   
  • Preventing criticism from paralyzing us
  • Why organizations need to integrate feedback and criticism into their operations to become better
  • Making a case for writing down suggestions, rather than speaking them

Next week

We will address another soft skill and its implications. New episodes come out every Wednesday

Have you joined The Soft Skills Revolution?

Our actions usually align with our ethics, and people with good ethics tend to be trusted and respected more than those whose ethical decision making is questionable. We are going to look at the ethical implications of decisions we make in this week’s episode of the Serious Soft Skills podcast.

Among the topics cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss are:

  • A definition of ethics and how it applies to work
    The value of virtue
    How questionable ethics can erode trust of team members
    Questioning cripples progress
    The societal effect on our ethics
    Are ethics black and white?
    The Golden Rule
    Short-term versus long-term benefits and how they relate to ethics
    The personal nature of ethics
    How our ethics set a tone for an organization

Tips for Good Ethics at Work
1. Don’t be deceived by short-term benefits
2. Matching your ethics to your organization’s ethics

A good book on ethical decision-making, The Power of Ethical Management by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale, with three guiding questions on ethics
1. Is it legal?
2. Is it balanced?
3. How will it make me feel about myself?  Unethical acts erode self-esteem.

Next week

We will talk to Mike Shelah, an expert at LinkedIn on how soft skills play into that social media platform, as well as networking in general. New episodes come out every Wednesday.

We always hear how important a positive attitude is, but why and how do we ensure we have a positive attitude. We’ll tackle how to maintain a positive attitude in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore a variety of topics related to the soft skill of having positive attitude.

Among the topics they address are:

  • What if we bring a negative attitude to a situation
  • The negative effects of creating a hero among teams
  • “Faking it until you make it”
  • Pushing forward despite stumbles
  • Moving past problems
  • Confidence in myself and my team
  • Finding ways to overcome challenges
  • Being honest and open and how to leads to trust among team members
  • How sparks and cobbled together ideas can fuel better outcomes
  • Naysayers never get promoted
  • Not falling into the unrealistic and non-optimistic perspective

Tips for keeping or restoring your positive attitude

1. Set realistic goals and recognize when you achieve them
2. Don’t let setbacks dig into you
3. Be grateful – we all need others to succeed
4. Smile
5. Sleep well and eat well
6. Laugh at yourself
7. Populate your life with positive people
8. Don’t get stuck in the weeds

Next week

We will look at the complicated soft skills of understanding the ethical implications of our decisions.

People think that being a good multi-tasker, something research says is impossible, means you are able to manage multiple projects. Most employees need to be able to manage different projects at the same time, meeting deadlines and working with others, to be effective.

Among the many topics Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham cover in this important episode on an often-overlooked soft skill are:

  • Differences between multi-tasking and managing multiple projects
  • Why we seem to believe multi-tasking works
  • Technology’s role in this soft skill
  • Are we using our time more effectively?
  • How to get ahead of multiple projects
  • What to do when things are not being well managed
  • Why looking at the Big Picture too much hurts being able to manage multiple projects.
  • A real example of managing a project to ensure it can be managed with other projects
  • How computers switch better than humans
  • Blocking out your day to ensure projects are managed well
  • More tips for ensuring you can juggle multiple projects
  • The other soft skills incorporated into managing multiple projects
  • Addressing the fact that things may go wrong once in a while

Next week

We will be looking at the role of storytelling. While not a soft skill, storytelling plays a huge role in being effective in a job search and in being successful in work situations.

Being focused on the client, whoever that is — both internal and external to the organization — is a critical component of any successful business and a soft skill that we need to understand and incorporate into any business.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore client focus from two different perspectives — one looking at external customers and the other looking at internal customers.

Among the topics they address:

  • What threats come to from poor customer service
  • How customer service leads to strengthening relationships
  • How language plays into good customer service
  • Sour experiences foretelling of bad reputations
  • Failing to think through what matters to the customers, even if it conflicts with what employees want
  • Collaboration versus siloing as customer service problems
  • Setting shared objectives to deal with a strong client focus
  • Why companies should be looking more closely at external and internal clients
  • Exploring what clients truly need from the organization and how to deliver it
  • Why focus is a key

Next week

We will be exploring the soft skill of being mature, which isn’t about being experienced. They’ll figure it out — or at least attempt to next week on the Serious Soft Skills podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham will tackle the soft skill of complying with standards. Sounds boring, right? Well, they’re going to make it interesting. We promise.

Among the topics they will discuss this week are:

  • Why complying with standards is a soft skill
  • The difference between internal and external standards
  • Written and unwritten standards
  • How the subprime mortgage industry breaking key rules caused a financial collapse
  • When standards need to be challenged or questioned
  • How time can require the need to evaluate old standards
  • When to question standards
  • The expectations that organizations have about complying with standards
  • How organizational culture can help with complying with standards

Next week

We will be talking about an important soft skill that forms a foundation for lots of organizational success: client focus.

Our latest Serious Soft Skills Podcast looks at how paying attention to details can help an individual, the team and the organization. But unfortunately, most of us struggle with this important soft skill. Learn why it matters and how to do it better in this episode of Serious Soft Skills.


Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the many important benefits of paying attention to details.

Among the topics they cover:

  • Who benefits from our attention to detail
  • What happens when we don’t pay attention to details
  • How to pay attention to details more effectively
  • Eight hints for better paying attention to details

Next week

The Serious Soft Skills Podcast will explain how complying with standards makes the soft skills list.