7 Ways to Stop a Meeting from Dragging On

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I’ve made myself a meeting victim more often than I’d like to admit, but over the years I’ve discovered that if I’m suffering, others are likely suffering too, and it’s in my power to do something. There are tactful things I can do to not only take responsibility for my own investment of time, but to become a healthy voice for the silent majority. In fact, most people silently cheer when someone takes action to refocus or cut off time-wasting activities.  –Joseph Grenny

Here are seven of my favorite interventions you can use to stop meandering in a meeting:

  • Come prepared. You can organize a chaotic conversation and gain disproportionate influence by simply arriving with a clearly articulated straw position on the topic to be discussed. Don’t push it on others, but offer to share it if others believe that will help accelerate discussion. More often than not they will.
  • Set boundaries. Take responsibility for your time. If a meeting is notorious for starting late and running over, let people know when the meeting begins what your boundaries are. For example, you might say, “I understand we’re starting late but I have a commitment to the Murphy team I want to keep so I have a hard stop at 10:45 AM.”
  • Trust your gut. Go public. Check with the group. Notice, honor and trust your gut. If you’re feeling lost, pay attention. If you’re feeling bored, notice it. There’s a good chance others are, too. Then, tactfully and tentatively share your concern. Don’t express it as truth; instead, own the fact that it is simply your experience. Next, check to see if others are feeling similarly. Here’s what that might sound like: “I’m not sure I’m tracking the discussion. We seem to be moving between three different agenda items. Are others seeing that, too?”
  • Restate the less-than-obvious. If discussion is toggling between two or more problems, summarize the topics on the table and suggest the group tackle one at a time. For example, “I’m hearing points about both whether this is a good investment and when we should make the purchase. I think we’ve already made the purchase decision and timing is the only question. Is that right?”
  • Ask the question no one’s asking. If a sacred cow is glaringly obvious, ask for confirmation of its existence. For example, “I’m getting from some of the comments that some of us question the wisdom of the original decision. Is that right?”
  • Spot the weeds. Periodically point out digressions into unproductive detail or tangents. Everyone in the group is responsible for the group process so if you say nothing, you’re part of the problem. Say something like, “It sounds like we’re in agreement about the policy. It seems like rather than wordsmith it now, it might be better to have someone do a draft?”
  • Clarify responsibilities at the end. It’s rare that someone in the meeting takes the time to summarize decisions and clarify commitments at the end. This usually only takes 60 seconds but saves hours in misunderstanding and future meetings. Even if you aren’t running the meeting, you can speak up and ask, “Can we take a second to summarize what we’ve agreed to and who will do what by when? Maybe I’m the only one who’s fuzzy but I want to be sure I follow through on my commitments.”
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