Mishandling circumstances with board members or bosses can have career-limiting consequences. Misunderstandings with clients and customers can result in lost revenue. Failing to decipher political dynamics occurring among peers can create silos. Regardless of who the stakeholders are, some relational miscues are costly.
How well do you recognize stakeholder perspectives while communicating your own? As you answer this question, consider two factors:
- The setting where this capability is especially beneficial.
- The ways leaders go astray.
Reading the situation and stakeholders is valuable in any setting, but meetings are prime contexts for using it. Many of our daily interactions (both good and bad) occur in meetings. Because we spend so much time in meetings, they are ripe for increased efficiency. Executives report 33 to 47% of meeting time is unproductive.
A closer examination of meetings reveals leaders tend to contribute to this lack of productivity and impair stakeholder relations in three ways.
1. Using Humor as a Veil
Humor in the workplace is beneficial when it is used wisely. Appropriate use of humor enhances work performance, satisfaction with leaders and connections among group members. In addition, humor helps defuse tense discussions in meetings.
Unfortunately, humor isn’t always used in a positive manner. Many of us have attended meetings when participants make sarcastic comments about individuals in the room. These verbal pokes may get laughs from a few people. Other colleagues are likely to take exception to these zingers by calling out this behavior. In my experience, the initiators of the sarcasm frequently try to explain it away as “having fun.”
When zingers occur repeatedly in meetings, the initiators are not just having fun. The comments are really jabs at colleagues done under the guise of fun. More specifically, the zingers are forms of passive aggression that individuals use instead of recognizing and resolving underlying issues.
Aggressive humor like excessive sarcasm belittles people. Its use shows no regard for the negative impact it has on colleagues. Ongoing aggressive humor targeted at the same individuals alienates them and damages interpersonal relationships. If the participants are members of a leadership team, this undermines team cohesion and collaboration.
2. Focusing at the Expense of Perceptiveness
In meetings, we want to make our points to the others in the room. Unfortunately, leaders often concentrate so much on making their points that they fail to fully recognize what is going on in front of them.
Although they may hear the words said by fellow stakeholders, they overlook how the words are said and what is not said. This imperceptiveness puts them at a disadvantage, because as some research asserts, they miss 93% of the information being offered. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA published his finding that 38% of the message in communication is in the way people say their words (such as tone of voice, rate of speech and volume level), while 55% of the message is in their body language (such cues as facial expression, gestures, posture and eye contact) and only 7% of the message is in the actual words they speak (content resulting from word choice).
If leaders catch only 7% of the information, they miss behavioral signs that stakeholders are ready to move on to the next meeting topic. Fidgeting, glancing at smartphones, eye rolls and rapidly tapping pens are interpersonal cues. Even good listeners can hurt their ability to tune into what is not being said by colleagues if they focus too much on sharing their own perspectives.
3. Processing Without Regard for Effect
We all take in information throughout the day. Unfortunately, the way leaders process or believe others process information in meetings can be problematic for stakeholder relations. This processing error takes two forms. The first form deals with the way individuals think. Leaders who think out loud (aka external processors), without letting colleagues know this is how they operate, often cause people to take action when that is not the intention. Frustration along with wasted time and energy are the consequences.
The second form relates to how leaders present information to stakeholders. In meetings, leaders frequently assume more information is better and overwhelm colleagues with excessive charts, graphs, facts and statistics. This unnecessary flood of information burdens others with digesting it, which takes valuable time and causes these colleagues to disengage. According to a survey by Brief Lab:
- 74% of professionals will ignore a presentation after 60 seconds if it doesn’t have a clear point.
- Close to 33% of individuals will tune out colleagues if colleagues can’t make their points in less than 15 seconds.
When they fail to recognize the impact of processing styles (their own and those of stakeholders), leaders weaken the points they are trying to make and lose credibility.
Where to Begin
What are potential options if you want to prevent (or at least manage) the preceding stakeholder relations issues in meetings? Consider the following approaches.
- Determine whether the real objective of the humor is to have fun in a joking manner or something less positive.
- Keep an eye on the frequency of sarcastic comments to gauge whether there are underlying issues with colleagues that need to be addressed. If there are underlying issues, decide how you will handle them on your own or bring in a neutral party to help you.
- When situations get too intense, try self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood.
Focus and Process Strategies:
- Look beyond words said by stakeholders for signs that give you a better picture of their level of interest and engagement. For example, repeated glances at watches could indicate impatience.
- Let colleagues know ahead of time if you are an external processor so they don’t get frustrated or misinterpret what you’re saying.
- Reduce information to critical points, and share it in the format that captures the attention of meeting participants.
Stakeholder perspectives and communication styles are not always obvious. Some are a matter of nuance. The ability to recognize these differences in real time and adjust accordingly is an element of finesse that will help you avoid costly miscues and increase meeting effectiveness.
Note: This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Ryan Lahti is the managing principal of OrgLeader and author of The Finesse Factor: How to Build Exceptional Leaders in STEM Organizations. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM organization tweets here: @ryanlahti
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(Photo: Business Meeting, Pixabay)