HYCS #40 – When You Need to Redirect the Meeting

HYCS #40 – When You Need to Redirect the Meeting

 Your ability to consult can be hampered by your client’s meeting skills.  Here’s how you can turn that around.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Assignment Time: 2 minutes (but it will feel like an eternity the first time)

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I’m in a meeting with my client and three of her direct reports.  No matter how I try to redirect the meeting, they are complaining non-stop for the first 20 minutes the meeting.  And not just one meeting – it’s happened at every meeting so far.  This seems to be the way they open their meetings.  After they have worn themselves out complaining, they get on with the meeting.  By then they are too exhausted to have much energy for change, so the next meeting is exactly the same as the last one.

 Oh, no, no, no, no, no.

My job is to help my client have the best conversation they’ve ever had about the topic we’re considering.  Out of that conversation will come the best decision they have ever made.  Bad meetings interrupt that conversation and hamper that decision.

Bad meetings make it difficult to listen well, to think creatively, to find out what is and isn’t possible with a group or organization.  You cannot be better than your client’s meetings.  When I encounter poor meeting habits in a client, I set aside the work I’m there to do and make a good meeting my first priority.

We’ve already gone over several of the elements of a stellar meeting in previous emails.  The importance of the decision maker, a clear outcome and a fair, inclusive process can’t be stressed enough.   But what do you do when you’re in the middle of a meeting and discover that it’s headed nowhere fast?

You stop the meeting anyway you can.  Then you redirect people’s attention to the meeting outcome and suggest a process for getting there.

How to stop a meeting cold

1. If you’re on the phone, press a button on the keypad.  It will be very loud in the meeting room.

This is dramatic, and I’ve only used it once.  At the time, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise and the client group had already spent 10 minutes complaining.  The stunned silence that followed gave me time to apologize for being so rude, comment on the complaining and suggest a different approach.    It worked.

2. (If you’re in the room, start here)   Comment on the behavior you see or your response to it.  This is called a process observation, and must be blame and judgment-free.   In the above example, I might say:

“I notice that we’ve spent the last 10 minutes talking about how difficult this situation is. “

Or, I might say:

“I’m feeling more and more discouraged about this situation.  Is anyone else feeling that way?”

These statements hold up a neutral mirror to the client that shows them what they are doing and how it’s affecting at least one person.  That can give even the most entrenched group the opening they need to make a change in their meeting habits.

“I could never say that to a client!”

I hear this a lot in workshops I give and I can understand how saying what’s so feels risky.  It’s risky for me too.  I get myself to say risky things to clients because I find even the riskiest statement easier to say than the alternative, which is “I’m sorry I couldn’t make a difference for you.”

When I refuse to interrupt my client’s bad meeting habits, I render myself ineffective.  If I won’t take the risk, I become a harmless part of my client’s system.  Instead of being part of the solution, I become part of the problem.  I’m not there to fit in.  I’m there to make a difference.

The sooner I start, the sooner I can make a difference.

Consulting is different than selling

This is one of the biggest differences between selling and consulting:  I do not wait for the exact right moment to take the relationship to the next level.  I create it.  I take the risk that my client will come with me.

If you are spinning your wheels with a client or colleague, waiting for the right moment to speak up, please know that your moment is now.  We are not playing jump rope, waiting for our turn.  We are consulting, finding a new rhythm with our clients.


Just say it.  Make an observation that feels risky either about the behavior you see in front of you, or about what is happening inside you.  Start small.  You might pick one meeting a week to make an observation in.  Then you might move to two a week, then one a day, and so on. This gets easier and more natural with practice.