You probably hate meetings. But if you’re a leader, the fact is that you spend most of your time in meetings. This isn’t going to end. Stop lamenting that you want to get “real work” done. Most of your real work happens in a meeting. Which means you need to become an expert at how to have good conversations, mostly about understanding and solving big hairy problems. The easy challenges get dealt with elsewhere.

And yet most business conversations are horrible. I know. I spend my life trying to facilitate them. They’re lousy at least partly because most of us don’t know the four magic words. Here they are:

  • “Here’s what I see…” – Listen to your colleagues in the next meeting. How often do they separate the inputs they’re taking in from the opinions they’ve formed? I’d guess not very often. Instead, many people make assertions which lead to counter-assertions which lead to rabbit trails and defensiveness. Eventually, the meeting’s time runs out and you’re saved by the bell. Except that there’s been no progress on the issues and you probably like and respect each other a little less. So start by clearly stating the inputs that shape your perceptions. Start by saying, “Here’s what I see…” and specifically calling out where you got your data. “Here’s what I see” statements should be followed with:
      • Performance data and trends
      • Outside sources or research
      • Direct observation
    • Even anecdotes. No they won’t carry as much weight as data but at least you’re separating inputs from outputs.

Come to think of it, that leads to four more words.

  • “Here’s what I think…” – Your perceptions ought to lead to some conclusions or at least a few hypotheses. You’re largely paid to think, so you’re expected to draw conclusions. You may be anywhere on the continuum of certainty from hunch to conclusion. Even that is useful to share since it tells your colleagues how firmly you hold your beliefs.

Since your perceptions are limited and your thought process may be flawed, I guess this could lead to another four words.

  • “I could be wrong…” – When you pair conviction (“Here’s what I think”) with humility (“I could be wrong”), you remind yourself and others that you’re not God. Which is never a bad thing to remember. You acknowledge that every great idea is born immature and needs help to grow up. You signal that you want others to join in. The music of real conversation begins to play.

Snap! This means maybe there’s yet another four-word set to get us to a great meeting:

  • “What do you see?…” – Now you’ve turned what could have been a monologue into a conversation. You’re dancing instead of boxing. Watch out. Something creative may happen. Worst case scenario, colleagues will understand your view and will perhaps feel free to agree instead of feeling drawn to a stalemate.

These magic words simply put an open mind into action. And open minds trump closed ones when you want to get things done.

So maybe your next day of back to back meetings doesn’t have to be miserable. Maybe you can help those meetings become productive, creative, and even *gasp* fun. It just takes four simple words…

Be Bright.