Stalled Meetings? Break the Barriers Down

January 13, 2020

surviving bad meetingsWe have all been in meetings or events that stall as participants reach an impasse or debate (even argue) on points and can't get resolution. It can be exhausting being in the meeting, even more so if you are facilitating it. In lean or change facilitation, we refer to hitting these markers as the bathtub of despair. So what do you do when you hit these barriers? Paul Axtell wrote an excellent piece on this subject for HBR (source below) and highlights some good strategies.

What do you do when the purpose of your meeting is to make a decision but the group can’t reach consensus? Often it’s useful to acknowledge what’s happening. You might say something like: “OK, this is a difficult conversation, but let’s take a breath and stay with it until we get to a good place.” Then outline a clear process for working through the issue; the conversation will go better if people believe it isn’t going to become a free-for-all. Try capturing on a whiteboard the points that people have made, which will let everyone review the conversation so far and think about whether new information is needed. You may also want to ask people for suggestions on moving the conversation forward. Don’t just vote on the issue, however — that often leads to an unhappy majority. Whatever process you do use, remind everyone to assume positive intent, keep the conversation kind and gracious, and listen to one another.

Whatever can be done, especially if you are facilitating, is to keep things positive and try to find a path forward. Remember you are not trying to make everyone happy, but get folks to buy in and support the direction. Per the famous quote of many floating around, if you want to make everyone happy, go sell ice cream. Check out Paul's full article below for some additional great detail.

Adapted from “When You’ve Reached an Impasse in Your Meeting,” by Paul Axtell

[source: How to Break Through an Impasse in a Meeting]


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