Managing Difficult Meetings amid the Pandemic

This is the new normal.  With the pandemic taking its toll on human beings, typical ways of dealing with one another have changed.  Social distancing, protecting oneself from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease that has encouraged the wearing of face masks, and avoiding handshakes even when meeting people for the first time, have been the new steps taken by everyone in the last six months or so.  These have not only been observed in the normal life setting but also within the workplace.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “the global pandemic may increase stress exponentially.”  It is causing people worry and anxiety.  In an article written by the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) in April 2020, “Nearly 7 in 10 employees indicated in a survey by mental health provider Ginger that COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career, which has aligned with stark increases in new prescriptions of antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications.”  With all the deliverable and tight deadlines that an employee is required to meet amid this unprecedented event, at minimum, it is both desirable and obliging to keep meetings less stressful than they could be sometimes.  Being unable to express one’s opinion and making a point across in virtual meetings effectively, employees and even leaders have to make extra efforts to not be misunderstood and become emotionally drained.  As employers and company executives battle to keep their companies afloat, difficult business meetings could have intense mental and emotional effects too.

Problems in meetings are summarized by these four categories as stated in the book, “Dealing with Difficult Meetings You Can’t Stand” by Dr. Rick Brinkman.  Those are Preparation (e.g. unclear agenda, kicking meetings off with unplanned topics or those that do not concern everyone), People (e.g. attendees not participating enough, personality clashes, people who like to talk but do not listen, and those who exercise control over discussions), Process (e.g. poor process or the lack thereof, being active on social media during meetings, unnecessary discussions, and running discussions again for attendees who show up late), and Time (e.g. arriving late, extended meetings, and countless meetings).  For people who consider time and mental health of great importance as ingredients to maintaining balance and being productive at work, these common pitfalls are not only taxing but are also roadblocks to getting things done efficiently.

The next question is how we can overcome such challenging meetings. Everyone, including the meeting leader, has to always add value to any assembly.  This is what FGC+ upholds in both internal and client meetings.  When one always thinks of value, he can never go wrong. These are ten golden practices that can help you in your next meeting.

  1. NECESSITY.  Determine if a formal meeting with more than two people is necessary. If it is, plan the duration effectively. Otherwise, leverage instant messaging to reach out to the other person directly and send a summary of discussion points thereafter.
  1. ROLE. If you have been invited to a meeting to discuss a particular topic you are not so knowledgeable about or exposed to, reach out to the meeting leader to clarify his expectations and if appropriate, recommend another point of contact to take over to ensure success in the delivery. This saves you from impending stress!
  1. MEDIUM.  As face-to-face meetings are discouraged lately, make sure that the right attendees are given the complete virtual meeting dial-in information ahead of time. As the leader, always be on time! Do not forget to secure your online meeting platform by applying a password and the like to prevent having unfamiliar folks join accidentally! Encourage the use of web cameras to create a warm environment for people to meet.
  1. EXPERTISE.  As leaders who are expected to drive discussions, respect everyone’s time. Come to the meeting prepared with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
  1. PARTICIPATION. As the meeting leader, you have the responsibility to welcome the people who jump on the call, share the meeting structure, and make everyone feel comfortable. What can be worse than not being given the opportunity to talk when you know you have invaluable input!
  1. RESPECT. Allow people to ask questions and share appropriate feedback. Avoid interruptions when one is talking. Hold your piece and say it at the proper time.
  1. COMMITMENT. If you do not agree with another, politely say so, and clarify your point properly. At the end of the day, realize that you are part of the team and you have to commit to get things done as agreed and planned by everyone.
  1. DECISIONS. Consider a poll when critical and quick decisions have to be made by the leaders within the meeting. This ensures everyone is aligned before they drop off.
  1. SUMMARY. Do a recap of takeaways, owners, and timelines before the meeting ends and remember that since not everyone has a sharp memory like that of a child, send the minutes of the meeting afterward.
  1. END POSITIVELY.  Wish everyone a great rest of the day!

In these trying times, we all have the responsibility to help alleviate the difficulties that we, our colleagues, and team members experience.  Everyone has responsibilities to fulfill and if we work from home all day long, virtual meetings become the only official venue to see, hear, and talk with one another.  Let us all try to conduct the next one as effectively and lightly as possible!