In a study of more than 50 large companies by the Ferrazzi Greenlight consulting company, “observable candor” proved to be the behavior that best predicted high-performing teams. Here are some ways you can encourage more open and honest conversations in your meetings:
1. Add some fun to your meetings. Opening with a fun icebreaker, doing a theater improv exercise, having an impromptu paper airplane making contest or brainstorming something fun can help participants feel more at ease and lower inhibition levels so participants are more likely to open up. At the very least try and encourage a relaxed atmosphere in your meetings – when people feel tense or feel as though they are in an overly formal situation, they are far less likely to speak up.
2. Assign a meeting referee on a rotating basis. The ref can flag any disrespectful talk in the meeting, encourage everyone to contribute, and speak up if they feel something is being left unsaid.
3. Add a “Rumor Mill” section to every agenda where people can speak up about any rumors they’ve heard. Bringing up issues under the guise of a “rumor mill” section can make it easier for people to raise contentious issues by distancing themselves from the statement.
4. Add a “What Question Aren’t We Asking?” section to your meetings.
5. Break groups into smaller subgroups for discussion, debates and brainstorms, then have everyone report back to the bigger group. Even when there’s only 6 or 7 people at a meeting, the participation and level of open candor can plummet, so breaking up and bringing back smaller groups can help ensure everyone has a voice.
6. Train and coach people on how to give supportive criticism. Companies such as Pixar studios are brilliant at generating candid conversations and debating ideas without hurting each others feelings by using what they call a “plussing” approach which encourages people to be hard on the idea and soft on each other, and encourages people to build on ideas rather than trash them by using a “Yes, and…” mindset. Teach people to view honest feedback as a generous gift that will help them and your organization. And when employees, especially leaders, soften their language by using phrases such as, “Just think about this…” or “I could be wrong, it’s just an idea…” or “Could I suggest…” then people are far less defensive and far more open to accepting feedback and new ideas.
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