The meeting was getting heated and it was just at the point of possible breakthrough. This is the hardest time. It is when conflict resolution strategies are needed more than ever.
You know how most meeting start. Everyone is on their best behavior and watching for who is going to make a move to be the star or the rebel or the avoider. Then, unless it is a boring check the box agenda driven meeting someone will bring up a point of contention about… a disappointed customer…. A project that is behind schedule…. A rumor about someone who is bad mouthing the company.
You can think of a million other issues.
And then the tension mounts. This can be good or not, depending on what you do with it. In most organizations this is where the most time gets wasted.
Back to the heated meeting in the first paragraph. John did not agree with what Chrissy said. Chrissy shot back a smart remark. John countered with an even better ‘gottcha’.
The boss told them to cool it.
Everyone was quiet until Don brought up the subject again. He was the team rescuer and there he was wanting everyone to play nice. Actually his idea was pretty good. Except he was in the ‘John camp’ and said “I’d like to take John’s idea and make some adjustments.” I have an idea of how to improve the customer feedback system.
John was on board and the two of them began to discuss possibilities. That is until Chrissy powered her way back and demanded to be heard. She explained in an angry voice that everything these two were talking about she had brought up at a prior meeting and was told she was being unrealistic.
John and Don rolled their eyes.
They both took turns attempting to tell Chrissy why their ideas were different. They kept saying to her “you are just not listening.”
And Chrissy finally looked at them with a bitter smile and said “WHATEVER.”
OK. What do you do when you are faced with that one word that shuts down all communication? When ‘WHATEVER’ enters the room you know that at least one person is disengaged. And what I have witnessed time and time again is that this disengagement is like a fast acting virus. Soon almost everyone is looking at the conference table, out the window, or if it is not seen, at their cell phone on their lap.
There are conflict resolution strategies and tips that can help to start the reengagement process. It takes someone who can stay neutral (not easy on any team) someone who is not a rescuer (this does not move anything forward) someone who is not an avoider (who will call the meeting to a close).
First: gain an understanding of how to make the black hole of the work world – meetings – become more vital and timely. No more “Wish I weren’t here,” no more “It will never change,” no more “I cannot help anyway.
Second: Help your company through communication malfunction by creating an environment safe enough for employees to take risks and dare to do things differently.
Third: Remember, it’s all in the timing.
Fourth: The process of breaking through barriers in meetings at work is nearly identical to the process of doing it with your family. You must remember sitting around the dinner table and it would feel uncomfortably similar to the conference table.
Fifth: Keep in mind that there is anxiety, stress, and a subtle yet potent demand to maintain the status quo, to keep everything peaceful, yet at the same time there is an underlying yearning for change and growth.
And most of all when someone says “whatever” challenge the word.
You can ask them what they mean by it. You can ask them what happened to shut them down. You can ask them what could now happen to help them reengage.
Hey, it may not happen at this exact meeting. However, I have seen teams move into amazingly creative conflict situations when someone, maybe you, would speak out when things start to shut down.
How have you handled the “WHATEVER” response?