Maximize Meeting Results


Do you go to too many meetings? Are many of them meaningless? Are they inadequately prepared? Are agendas non-existent and desired outcomes vague? Do you wonder why people don’t stay focused and tend to waste valuable time?  If you answered YES to any of these questions, here are some things to help you maximize meeting results.

Prepare agendas in advance and I don’t mean a bulleted list of things to do. A meaningful agenda includes specific desired outcomes for each agenda item as well as a specific amount of time you will spend on each item. If you have an hour for the meeting, only plan for that hour. Most meetings go off the rails because the person who called the meeting created an agenda that doesn’t fit the allotted time. Also, your agenda should clearly state the purpose of the meeting, the objectives of the meeting and the criteria for a successful meeting (POC).

Another reason meetings can be a waste of time is the meeting does not have a designated facilitator so the person who called the meeting winds up trying to play both roles (and we all know trying isn’t doing). Remember, every meeting has a cast of characters including the leader (person who called the meeting), the facilitator (the person who manages meeting), the writer (the person who takes and distributes notes/minutes/action items), and the participants/attendees.

Do your best to assign a facilitator. It’s hard for the meeting leader to be able to play both parts especially if he/she has some bias toward the outcome.

A meeting facilitator is a neutral person who helps the group understand its objectives so it may efficiently and effectively pursue the goals of the meeting. Facilitators don’t get involved with the specifics of the content and they make sure things stay on track. They are skilled listeners and provide indirect and inconspicuous guidance. They listen for understanding and reflect back what they hear, keeping emotion out of it.

Be sure you assign someone to take and distribute notes including all action items and due dates discussed. Don’t leave this up to the leader or the facilitator. Notes should be distributed within a day or two at the latest. It’s easiest to use a laptop and send an email to all participants immediately following the meeting.

Remember, when you are playing any of the parts before, during or after the meeting, please be 100% present…”BE HERE NOW.”  And pay attention to how you say what you say because it matters!

Before You Hit Send

















Most email programs will populate an email address with the first few letters of someone’s name if you have communicated with them before. If you’re in a hurry, anxious about something, or your brain just isn’t working at full capacity it’s easy to just type a few letters of someone’s name and click it without looking carefully.

This happened to a client recently when he typed in Nancy and then clicked on me instead of his wife whose name is also Nancy. I received a message meant for his wife and it’s a good thing nothing intimate was said or we both would have been very embarrassed. As it turned out it was information about something going on at their son’s school. We got a good laugh out of it.

This can happen at work if you’re not careful. What if you typed the wrong addressee and wrote something nasty about a coworker or the boss? You may find yourself later on having what I call an “OH NO” moment. It hits you the wrong person was in the “send to” line.

Here are  some tips to help you from having your own “OH NO” moment:


The Relevant Rule:

Only send relevant email to the relevant people. Be sure you proofread the email address, too.

Six Steps to Make Email More Mindful and Less Likely to Misfire:

  1. Compose your email. Think about your audience.
  2. Stop. Take one long, deep breath, counting to five on the inhale and again on the exhale.
  3. Think of your audience again and be clear about how you want your message to be received. Could the recipient(s) misunderstand and become angry or offended? Or could the recipient(s) think you are being more positive than you intend? Also, remember The Relevant Rule.
  4. Avoid “Pre-mature Send Syndrome”. Look at the email again. Assume your reputation is on the line every time you send an email. Are you sure you want to put in writing whatever it is you are writing? Proofread and be sure email is the best channel for you to use for this message. If not, stop and do something else (phone or in-person meeting).
  5. Edit the email if necessary. Proof read it again. Look at the addressee and be sure it’s the correct email address for the correct person. Proofreading is NOT a Lost Art! It should always be the last step before you hit send.

Pay Attention

Beautiful smiling cute baby

Have you ever logged  how much time you waste fixing other people’s mistakes? Sloppy mistakes. Errors in communication. Laziness on their part. Someone’s lack of attention to detail. I started logging this and got so frustrated, I had to stop lest I go crazy (some might argue I already am crazy but that’s a conversation for a different time).

We can learn a lot from babies and toddlers. Watch them play. They are focused in the present moment. They pay attention to whatever they are doing. They aren’t distracted by a lot of things happening at once. They pay attention.

What’s to prevent you from taking an extra moment to proofread an email before sending it, to double check the data in a document before passing it along or to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something? There is no good answer to this question. All you have to do is pay attention.  Jon Kabat-Zinn titled his classic 1994 book, “Wherever you Go, There You Are. Good advice. Be present. Proofread. Save yourself (and the receiver of your message) the extra time it takes to correct the errors you make. We all might wind up with more time at the end of the day. What a concept! Bonus time just for paying attention.

Close the Loop…Please!


I get it. We’re all busy. Overworked. Often overwhelmed. And yet, that’s no excuse for being rude and leaving people hanging, blowing in the breeze unaware of what’s happening. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I got a call from an old client asking if I still do a certain type of training. I said yes. She said she wanted to connect me with one of her clients who needed my services. The connection is made, several phone conversations take place, I line up the other people who work with me on this type of a project and we provide several available dates in the time frame he requested. Bear in mind three of us who work as independent contractors are holding 10 dates on our calendars. He indicated he should have confirmation for us in a week or so.

Two weeks passed and while we’re waiting for a decision one of us gets booked for one of the 10 dates we were holding. I let the new client know that one of the dates is no longer an option and ask when will we be able to lock it all down. He says he has a meeting with the powers that be and should know by the end of the week (this was Tuesday).

The end of the week comes and goes. More time passes and we now are getting very close to the dates we’re holding. If we wait much longer the preparation for the program will suffer. Due to the importance of the customization and preparation we do, my colleagues and I decide if we don’t have confirmation by a certain date we will have to push the program to the next month. This is politely communicated to the client and then NO response. Nothing. Nada. Zip. No “Thank you for holding the dates but I won’t be able to tell you by then” or “I’ll keep you posted” or “Thanks but no thanks.” It had been several weeks and still no reply.

Obviously we released the dates and moved on. Then two weeks later we heard from him telling us we might hear from him in a couple of months. The sad thing is this is not an isolated example of people not closing the communication loop. People are left hanging a lot. The result of this lack of communication causes resentment and puts up roadblocks to future interactions. This happens when coworkers don’t keep each other in the loop about important projects, or when managers don’t follow-up with employees or in any number of different situations.

Effective communication happens when the sender and the receiver have closed the loop with mutual understanding and respect. Has this happened to you? Tell me about your experiences and be sure you close all of your loops.

There is Power in Silence


As a tool for effective communication, silence is powerful. I’ve been told many times to keep my mouth shut when negotiating a contract. Simply state what you need and keep quiet. All too often, I hear stories about people negotiating against themselves because they jumped back into the conversation before the other person responded.

People will also get themselves into trouble if they keep talking when they really don’t have anything to say. Some people just like to hear themselves speak. I caution you to be sure what you are saying has meaning. Simply stated, think before you speak.

The most obvious use of silence is when you’re listening. It’s important to be quiet so you can hear and understand what is being said before you respond.

Going beyond basic listening, let’s look at how silence can benefit you during a confrontation. Imagine you and another person are standing about 18 inches apart. Your arms and hands are pushing against each other.  Neither of you is making any progress and your lower back is probably starting to hurt. Now, imagine one of you drops your hands and steps back. The other person will likely fall forward and be out of balance. Who has the power? The person who stepped back is obviously in a better position.  Now, if both of you stepped back, you both would be empowered to find an amicable solution to the conflict. 

Using this example, think of communication situations where someone is confronting another with anger and hostility. Generally, we REACT and “push at” that person in a defensive manner. “You said this…” “NO. You said that…” This causes communication breakdown. The alternative is to RESPOND by “stepping back,” taking a beat of silence and choosing to stay calm. Keep hostility out of your voice and say something like, “Okay, let’s look at this and explore solutions we can both live with.” When both of you step back, you allow the communication to openly flow so that breakdowns can be avoided.

Probably the most powerful use of silence is the ability to get quiet and listen to your inner voice. Men call this instinct and women call it intuition. We all refer to it as a “gut response.” The late business philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome, called intuition cosmic fishing. But he warned, “Once you feel a nibble, you’ve got to hook the fish. Too many people get a hunch, then forget about it.”

I’m reminded of Ray Kroc’s story. In l960, after franchising over 200 McDonald’s restaurants and only receiving less than two percent of the gross, Ray asked to buy the chain. The price was extremely high for those times and he was advised against it. Kroc recalls, “I’m not a gambler and I didn’t have that kind of money, but my funny bone instinct kept urging me on. I called my lawyer back and said, “Take it!” I bet he was glad he quietly listened to that funny bone instinct, his inner voice.

Please remember, there is power in silence. Pay attention. Listen. Trust your gut.


These Little Words Make a BIG Difference

“Trying is just a noisy way of not doing”

-Ken Blanchard & Norman Vincent Peale


While we were growing up we heard, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s no wonder we weren’t succeeding. We were continually trying. For many of us trying became very trying. It took a lot of energy and held us back. This is not to say don’t be persistent. Persistence is different than trying.

To illustrate this point, stop reading and try to raise your hand. You either do it or you don’t.

How many times do you hear people say, “I’ll try to get that report to you by Tuesday” or “I’ll try to call you back later?” What do they really mean? What’s the probability that the report will be there on Tuesday or that the call will come later? Try is one of those little words that makes a BIG difference. Instead of saying that you’ll try, simply say that you’ll do. I’ll do my best to get the report to you by Tuesday. With this response you are making a commitment to do something. Yoda said it best in the original Star Wars movie when Luke Skywalker said, “I’ll give it a try.” Yoda’s response was, “Try not. Do. Or Do not. There is no try.” Nike took a step further, “Just Do It.”

Another little word that makes a BIG difference is but. More often than not it will erase everything in the sentence that came before it: “Yes, but we should…” or “That brief is well done, but it should include…” During performance reviews people use a lot of buts also: “Overall your performance was fully as expected, but you didn’t …”

When the listener hears the word but, they don’t hear what came first. To rectify this problem simply change but to and.  This will tie the two thoughts together so both are heard. For example:

                          “Yes, and we also need to…”

                        “That report is well done and it also must include…”

                        “Overall your performance was fully as expected and to be even more effective you could …”

And when you need more information and just want someone to dig a little deeper simpley say, “Tell me more.” This works especially well when someone is upset as it can show that you care and at the same time help calm the situation.

Always remember, how you say what you say matters.

The Lost Art of Listening


Listening matters! It does. Really. But, do you do it well? Do you do it often? Do you even know how to listen? There’s listening and there’s reflective listening. All listening is about being present with another human being regardless of the situation. You could be having a conversation in person, on the phone, or even in a text or email exchange. The first step to effective listening is to be conscious…to be mindful…to be with what is in the present moment.

Here are four steps to effective listening. I call it STAR Power™ and it works like this:


Let the other person finish speaking. Don’t interrupt. Pay attention. Be present. Be mindful. Be nice. Open your mind.


Decode the message for the meaning. When in doubt,  check it out. Remember, it’s the mutual responsibility  both the sender and the receiver to make sure the       message sent is the message received. You can’t  blame the other person if you don’t understand. Ask  questions until you do understand.


Show the speaker you are listening–nod your head, make listening noises, and give eye contact. Remember, just because someone is nodding their head while someone is talking doesn’t mean they are in total agreement with what is being said.


Now it’s your turn. Respond, don’t react! The  difference is thought and presence. Pay attention to your non-verbal signals and tone of voice. Make sure they align with your words.

When you get to this last step, you may also choose Reflective Listening. Simply restate the speaker’s message using your own words to make sure you fully understood what was said and meant.  This is especially helpful when ending a conversation or a meeting to make sure eveyone fully understands what happened/was said. If you have action items, clarify them now. Always be aware of your non-verbal signals and your tone of voice so as not to cause conflict or put the other person/people on the defensive.

There are several “lead in” phrases you can use for reflective listening including:

“Let me be sure I understand.  Do you feel (think, mean, etc.)…?”

       “Sounds to me like…”

      “In other words…”


Being a good listener helps you increase productivity, profitability and peace of mind. Just do it.

Self-Talk Matters!

Self Talk

Communication is one thing we do all the time alone or with others.  It’s one of the most critical things that can make or break an organization, a family, or a friendship.  And, it’s the one thing that didn’t appear in the curriculum while most of us were in public school.

I grew up with a model of communication where people used guilt and manipulation, where the glass was always half empty and where yelling was the norm so I decided to study communication in college.  However, in all the classes I took as an undergraduate as well as during my master’s program, nothing was ever mentioned about the impact of the “self” on the outcome of the communication.  Nobody had spoken about the correlation of one’s inner life with one’s ability to communicate effectively.  And there is a correlation because how you say what you say matters™and how you feel and what you think determines all of that.

The greatest benefit arises when you are aware and fully focused in the now.  Some call it Mindfulness (being with what is in the present moment), Ram Dass says, “Be Here Now” and Thich Nhat Hanh refers to it as “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.”  It’s no big secret. What you do with it is what matters. The key is to be conscious in every moment.

Since you likely talk to yourself more than to anyone else, be sure to tune into your self-talk and clear your mind of negative thoughts and attitudes. If you don’t like what you’re saying to yourself change the channel. When communicating with others, stay focused on what you hear, what you understand is being said and how you choose to respond in the moment. If you find you’re having trouble staying in the present say the words “Be Here Now” (or whatever works for you) as a trigger to bring you back into the present moment.  This will help you center yourself so you’ll be able to be open to what’s being said and how to best respond.

For example, an employee comes storming into your office upset about a decision you recently made.  He’s really angry and is clearly attacking you.  Your first thought is likely to defend your position which you do.  This leads to a bigger argument, more defending and attacking and ultimately no one listens and nothing is accomplished.

What if you were to take a more centered approach and via your self-talk, youC.A.L.M. yourself?  Let the employee bitch, moan, dump and complain.  All the while you are:

       Controlling your response (don’t react)

       Assessing the situation (look beyond the anger and ask questions)

       Listening carefully with integrity (keep an open mind)

       Moving toward understanding (be pro-active)

Once the verbal attack is complete, respond with empathy paying attention to your tone of voice so you don’t sound condescending. Your response may go like this, “It sounds like you’re unhappy about this; let’s explore how to handle this.”  You’re showing that you care.  (Be sure you really do care because if you don’t it will come through in your voice and body language and you will have defeated the whole interaction.)  By not becoming defensive you have kept your power, helped defuse the employee’s anger and set the stage for an interaction where the probability for understanding has increased.

Remember, being fully present so you can control your self-talk helps you be a better communicator!














It’s hard to believe ten years has passed since Steve Jobs gave his famous Stanford University Commencement Address (2005) where he advised students not to let the“noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice”, but rather “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”. We often ignore our intuition or “gut feelings” and think the only way to reach a decision is through painstaking analysis. Although analysis is important so is acknowledging and trusting your intuition.

How many times did you change answers on a multiple choice test only to discover your first answer was the correct answer? We’ve all done that and yet, why is it hard for us to trust our intuition? Is it that we don’t trust ourselves?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines intuition as follows:

noun in·tu·i·tion \ˌin-tü-ˈi-shən, -tyü-\

: a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence : a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why

: quick and ready insight

There has been a lot written on the subject both pro and con. Twenty years ago I saw a book titled The Intuitive Manager by Roy Rowan who was a journalist with Fortune magazine. He defined intuition as “knowledge gained without rational thought” and his premise was it had a biological base. His belief was that the mind organizes previous experiences, relationships, encounters, etc. in ways that can help you make more effective decisions. He tells the story of several famous CEOs of the time including Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics) and Ray Kroc (McDonalds) who attributed much of their success to intuitive decision making.

This book stuck with me and over the years I have learned when I trust my intuition and go with my gut, I’m more often pleased than not. How about you? Do you trust your intuition?

Criticism Doesn’t Have to Hurt


As children, when we heard the word criticism, our hearts stopped, our stomachs churned and we likely thought, “I’m not good enough.”  The word criticism has taken on very negative connotations and it doesn’t have to be that way.

I often hear that receiving criticism is one of the most difficult and uncomfortable communication situations facing us at work and at home. Yet our ability to view criticism productively is a key to successful leadership, management, and overall relationship development. How we deal with critical comments often determines how we feel about our bosses, our peers and our direct reports as well as our family and friends. It also says a lot about how we feel about ourselves.

The ability to receive criticism and profit is very important if you want to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. The ability to give criticism in a positive, productive manner is equally important. Remember, when communicating, it takes two and it starts with you. How YOU give and how YOU receive will impact how beneficial the criticism will be.

Recently, a client who is very open to constructive feedback was telling me how her new boss had no idea how his constant critique of her work (as well as the work of her team) was impacting the morale throughout the organization. He was like a bull in a china shop knocking down everything in his path; projects they had worked on for months had been well-received by leadership before but were now being denigrated. This new boss was marking his territory at the expense of creativity and collaboration. My client knows the appropriate way to give and receive criticism so she chose to do her best to “develop thicker skin” and use it as a reminder of what not to do.

When you are the sender of criticism whether it be in a performance review, a project review or just in passing, be sure to be alone with the receiver. Berating someone in a meeting shows a definite lack of EQ (emotional intelligence). Avoid the following which are examples of destructive criticism:

  • Shaming and blaming the receiver
  • Threats and ultimatums
  • “I told you so.”
  • Providing unclear alternatives and general feedback
  • Being rude and inconsiderate of how you are saying what you are saying

Instead, follow these steps toward productive criticism:

  • Think before you speak. What’s the end game?
  • Focus on behaviors, not personalities. BE SPECIFIC.
  • Be sure to discuss the situation with the other person immediately  while it’s fresh and easy to remember.
  • Be sure the behavior you are criticizing can be changed. If not, stop.  Things like reports being late, arguments with clients and tardiness can  be changed. Things like physical ailments cannot be changed.
  • Use I-statements instead of You-statements. “I have been noticing that  the monthly report has been two weeks late for the past three  months…” works better than “You have not turned in the monthly report  on time once in the last three months.” As soon as receivers hear a YOU-statement, they often become defensive causing barriers and breakdowns.
  • Speak calmly and clearly. Don’t belabor the issue.
  • If possible, offer incentives for changed behavior.
  • Commit to helping, when you can.
  • Acknowledge the change with positive feedback.
  • Be sure to present yourself with an understanding that this can be a  positive experience and you care about the other person’s ability to  grow in the job.

When you are receiving criticism, do your best to KEEP AN OPEN MIND. Remind yourself this is an opportunity for you to learn something even if the person is rude and demeaning (you may learn you don’t want to work for or with him/her anymore if it persists). Know that the sender may lack emotional intelligence and not know how to deliver it in an appropriate manner. Avoid these destructive responses:

  • Making excuses
  • Avoidance and withdrawal
  • Superficial acceptance
  • Retaliating

Instead, choose to profit from the experience using it as a catalyst for personal and professional development. Criticism can be a chance to make choices rather than to accede to demands. You always have choices. No one can make you change; it’s your choice. Think of it as a source of new data and evaluate it objectively. Take whatever steps are necessary to put behavioral changes into action. If a negative situation like described above with my client continues and you find yourself in an abusive situation, it might be time to dust off the resume and start looking for new job opportunities.