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Conversations That Count (Whatever Your Format)

8 June 2021

Rachel and Allison prepared to talk with their Charlottesville SHRM colleagues about making every meeting – virtual, hybrid, or in-person – the best it can be. Fortunately for all of us, many of the same best practices still apply.

Tags: allison read, communication, covid-19, meetings, rachel read, remote work

When you stop to think about it, lots of people – us included – spend a sizable portion of each workday in conversation. From formal meetings and town halls to supervision check-ins and team huddles, different formats and functions abound, and the choices about how to ensure each conversation is effective haven't gotten any easier as we've navigated work amid a pandemic. Last month, we had a chance to share some of our thoughts about making the most of each opportunity to connect with the membership of Charlottesville SHRM. Read on for our top ten, or see us discuss our tips below.

  1. Stop Zoom bashing. It's fun, we know. However, we anticipate that we'll be incorporating some virtual meetings into our lives for a long time to come. Whether your organization's platform of choice is Zoom or Teams or Google Meet or something else, it's fine to say that an online meeting isn't the ideal format for every conversation – but also recognize that it's really useful in some situations.
  2. Know what you want to accomplish. If you're having a conversation, it's likely because you want to share information, get input, make a decision, or learn something new. Sometimes it's also helpful to think about how you want people to feel and act as a result of the conversation. Whatever it is, specify your goal up front.
  3. Make deliberate choices about each interaction. We can get into all sorts of ruts, and our meeting style and format is no exception. With your objective in mind, think about what tools and formats will suit you best. You may find that an email or a phone call is sometimes a better choice.
  4. Set yourself up for success. Whatever your physical location, how you show up matters. You can do a lot in an online meeting, but sometimes it takes a bit more preparation than walking to the flip chart in your conference room. Make sure you have what you need (physically and mentally) to succeed.
  5. Set others up for success. People are looking for cues and clarity about what's expected and how to contribute. Take time to get everyone on the same page with the information and material they need.
  6. Have an agenda and a plan. Your agenda outlines the topics or content of your conversation; your plan specifies what you'll do. It can be easy to fall into a trap of a detailed agenda and a non-existent plan. Instead, think about what you'll say, the tools you'll use, the roles you will ask people to play – that's your plan.
  7. Use your imagination to prepare and to practice. While we don't get to have a rehearsal for every meeting or conversation, a vivid imagination can be almost as useful. Try to anticipate and visualize exactly what you want to have happen, and use that to inform your practice and preparation.
  8. Give feedback. Disruptive noises, distracting backgrounds, and harsh lighting are the "spinach in your teeth" of an online meeting. Even when we're in person, sometimes colleagues need a gentle reminder to share airtime or speak a bit louder. 
  9. Be willing to change your mind (and your plan). If there's one thing we've experienced in the past 15 months, it's that things change. A lot. And sometimes very quickly. If you find yourself in the midst of a conversation that isn't working, or if the situation is evolving in real time, it's far better to take a "time out" and adjust then it is to persist with an outdated plan.
  10. Stop waiting for meetings to go back to how you remember them. To the best of our knowledge, time machines don't exist, and we won't return to January of 2020 and the plans we had then. Some colleagues may want to preserve the flexibility of hybrid or remote work; others may return to the workplace but have varied levels of comfort within groups or physical spaces. Your conversations – your organization's work – shouldn't wait until things "go back." Instead, try to look forward and consider how you'd like meetings to be in the future, complete with all the new options we've encountered (often not by choice) in the past year.

Thanks to our colleagues at Charlottesville SHRM for prompting our thinking and contributing to the dialog. What else should we keep in mind to help make each conversation count?


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