I know when a meeting isn’t going well when this happens: A director is running through a Powerpoint presentation and the board members aren’t asking challenging questions, they are passively observing but not engaging. This, to be fair, is normal in our culture. We move through school, university and on into employment by passively sitting there while being talked at.
Obviously at this level — business ownership and entrepreneurship – this is a problem. If board members aren’t engaging then we need to do something about it. One of my key jobs with clients is this. It’s part of the chairman’s role, which is where I usually sit. In communications people often assume they are further apart than they are and this is because, frankly, people are poor listeners.
Sometimes two people will be saying the same thing apart from a minor point of difference, and that can be enough to scupper progress. This is like a micro version of the “narcissism of small differences” that can send two similar tribes to war. We know there is often a bit of ego involved in meetings. When someone turns up with an idea and it’s challenged, it can feel like a personal attack. Maybe they feel like their whole idea, even their person, is “not good enough”. People who react badly to challenging feedback may do so because they have low self worth. Those who feel secure and confident, on the other hand, might be more curious and open to hearing negative feedback, as long as it is framed constructively. Too much confidence, on the other hand, is hubris. We’re looking for a balance of confidence, openness and humility.
If you are in the business of sharing ideas and improving your business, though, you must be prepared to let go of some of your ideas in the process.This is one of our core values at Hive: there’s no one person who sets strategy, rather, we move and it changes dynamically. And that’s what I do with clients. Work on this in your own communications with colleagues. When it feels like a conversation isn’t going how you want, imagine you are in a wrestle or a dance. They are not seeing something you want them to notice, so how do you sweep their leg so their perspective changes?
A conversation isn’t supposed to be a one way transmission of information that is received with 100% acceptance. An effective conversation is relationally active; you’re listening for cues and responding to them as you share what you wanted to say in a creative, adaptive way. The DJ Akira The Don shed light on this idea when he said he doesn’t like the term “guilty pleasures”. He gave Abba as the perfect example. He can be DJing in the most exclusive LA club, playing music that reinforces the clientele’s view that they are the zenith of cool. When he has lulled them into a false sense of security he drops Dancing Queen and the crowd goes wild. In that moment everyone stops taking themselves seriously and has fun, and for him that’s what DJing is about. It’s a conversation with the dancers.
To risk sounding like a broken record, there are no solutions, only trade offs We’re looking for the Dancing Queen moment so we can figure out how best to move forward. It’s amazing what happens when you listen to people. And beyond that, when you hold them in mind, as if you’re listening to what they might say. How would they feel about this thing I’m reflecting on? Then the answer comes: “So that’s how I show them it’s true…” It often comes to you out of the blue and there is no standard route to finding it, but discovering the right Dancing Queen moment is the most reliable catalyst of positive change in business, relationships, and leadership. I highly recommend it.