team has spent the last three hours in a meeting trying to make a decision about
your latest promotional campaign. If you were being politically correct, you'd
say the group had reached an impasse if you were being brutally honest,
you'd admit that leaping across the boardroom table and garroting the graphic
artist is an increasingly feasible course of action.
We've all been there trapped in a never-ending meeting with attendees who've
reverted to veiled insults, snooty silences and blind stubbornness. You may have
wondered why some meetings have the ability to transform seasoned business professionals
into bratty children. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the
formula for meeting mayhem. Essentially, you're taking a group of professionals
with vastly different experiences, opinions and beliefs, cramming them into a
boardroom and asking them to reach a consensus on a difficult decision in 50 minutes
or less. It's mutiny waiting to happen.
To retain some sense of workplace harmony, you need to structure potentially
confrontational meetings differently. The following strategies will minimize
meeting mutiny and speed up decision-making in your company.
Opinion vs. Fact
Most of us are quite happy to express an opinion whether we know
what we're talking about or not. Opinions are easy because they're based on
preconceived ideas and beliefs. Facts, on the other hand, come from external
sources or experiences and require some degree of research or knowledge.
In too many conflict situations, people argue their position with opinions
rather than facts. They may state their opinion as fact (especially if they
have a strongly held belief), but without proof to substantiate a claim, it's
still an opinion.
To speed up your meeting, force people to argue using facts only. Without opinions
getting in the way, you'll arrive at a consensus and make decisions much more
Of course you don't want your meeting to resemble a get-together of the Third
Reich that will only frustrate participants and make them more likely
to argue the outcome. At the beginning of the meeting, have all participants
express their opinion on the subject at hand (it might help to limit each person
to five minutes). Once everyone's position is known, restrict the remainder
of the discussion to factual statements only.
Conflict vs. Disagreement
It's important to differentiate between conflict and disagreement. Disagreements
are healthy. They force the group to consider different options and select the
most viable course of action. Conflict however is dangerous because it implies
an emotional component. When people form an emotional attachment to a certain
issue, project or strategy, they're unlikely to back down from their position.
It's much harder to reach a resolution if someone is going to be emotionally
affected by the outcome.
So how do you stop a disagreement from turning into a conflict? Behave like
a consummate professional. Don't attack anyone on a personal level. Avoid nasty
comments, malicious digs and veiled insults. Be forthright and honest about
your opinions and confine them strictly to work not to anyone's character.
Expression vs. Repression
In the interest of time, it's tempting to exclude key
people from the decision-making process especially
if their involvement may cause conflict. But if people feel
their opinion wasn't solicited, they're more likely to object
to the project on principle, making it more time-consuming
in the long run to finish the project. Everyone wants to be
part of the process by giving people the chance to
express their opinion early on, you're more likely to have
their buy-in for the duration of the project.
How to Manage Controversy