Positive Vibes

October 14, 2019

Bernardo Moya is the Founder of The Best You and Author of The Question: Find Your True Purpose.

The workings of the mind are mostly studied to see why things go awry. Instead, studying how and why things do not go wrong could help us find the factors that pave the way for success. Such an approach could lead to more creative outcomes in a business context, especially in the case of meetings.

The science of positive psychology seeks to understand and enhance the positive aspects of life, focusing on happiness, well-being, and flourishing. The founder of the discipline, Martin Seligman, describes it as the ‘scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.

The big difference between positive psychology and traditional form is that older types of psychology tended to focus on where things go wrong and deal with problems. So, it would look at mental illness, physical sickness, and poor educational attainment, rather than seeking to discover why and how things go right. Positive psychology asks what the exact psychological elements are that lead to well-being and success, and then seeks to replicate these things.

Such an approach certainly applies to business, where it can be used in the activity that causes the most frustration and time-wasting—the office meeting. Too often people feel that all they succeed in doing in meetings is talk. They do not feel they get things done, and that too often, decisions are kicked down the road to be dealt with later.

It has been estimated that in the average business in the UK, 37 percent of work time is given over to meetings. Some estimates go so far as to state that 50 percent of that time, participants feel their time was wasted.

So, it is worth asking the question—what do you want from a meeting, and how do you make that happen?

You can ensure a good write-up of the meeting encapsulates key communications, observations and decisions after the event. This provides a frame for people’s expectations and direction of travel.

Of course, meetings have many different purposes, but let us suppose your ideal model is to decide on a course of action through consensus, drawing on the creativity of the team to get there. What can you do to make that happen?

There are the more obvious answers, such as ensuring everyone is briefed well by ensuring participants are provided with an agenda and have supplied relevant materials in advance for others to see. You can be strict with timing to ensure you do not start late and you do not overrun. And of course, you can ensure a good write-up of the meeting encapsulates key communications, observations and decisions after the event. This provides a frame for people’s expectations and direction of travel.

During the meeting, once people buy into the desired outcome, make sure the timeline for a project are agreed. After this, chunk down so that the stages along the way appear obvious and doable.

These are some of the practical steps, but the reality is that happier employees are more productive and more innovative—and that is exactly what you want in your meeting, so it becomes an energizing and enjoyable experience.

This means making the mood right. Because, when people are interested, engaged, amused, grateful, and confident, this makes them perform far more effectively. Studies have shown that the brain operates on a completely different level.

Research suggests that with the right mood, the peripheral vision broadens out so that you are more aware of what is going on in the room, and more responsive to it. This is a result of your brain’s neuro-transmitters such as serotonin and dopamine enabling a more active neural network. This means that information processing is enhanced, and in a positive frame of mind, the ability to organize, think creatively, analyze and problem-solve far more efficiently. All of these improvements are exactly what you want in a meeting.

The big question is how to make that mood environment happen? It’s vital that people, having entered the room with a positive expectation continue along that track. This means making them comfortable and engaged. This means you need to take the intimidating elements out of a meeting. In a threat situation, people think about themselves and how to compete rather than collaborate. They need to know they are in an environment in which they’re comfortable and appreciated.

Remember, when people feel safe, they are less concerned about themselves and their role and are far more willing and able to collaborate.

Illustration by Nirali Desai

Much of that can be done by your approach to calling the meeting in the first place. Preframe your meeting to make sure positive goals are laid out. “Looking forward to find solutions to x, and how we can build on y” is a much better email than, “we need to talk about the disaster of a and why b is underperforming.” Make the focus of discussion the positive change you want to see. Of course, you can acknowledge the negatives in a situation, but seek the solution, do not dwell in the bad feelings.

Once you start the meeting, be aware of the powerful motivation that comes from gratitude and praise. You might recap what is happened since the last meeting, praising positive steps forward since then, and calling for further action to go further still. People want to feel appreciated and recognized for their contribution, and that good feeling will make them hungry for more of the same. At the same time, recognize that with that attitude going forward, there is going to be yet more achievement ahead. This setting of a psychological direction is far more useful than: “We’ve got this far, but now comes the really difficult bit”, which immediately makes people move back to a defensive position.

Remember, when people feel safe, they are less concerned about themselves and their role and are far more willing and able to collaborate.

Remember, too, to praise creativity and allow it space to breathe. What seems like an ill-formed idea may be just badly expressed as it comes to the surface. If you want your team to come up with fresh ideas and approaches, create moments in the meeting where you allow for ideas to come forward to be explored and discussed. New ideas should not be slapped down immediately. It is easy to respond to a suggestion that appears on the surface to be a little left-field with a reflexive “that’ll never work…” But are you sure? And will exploring that path open up new ideas? Responding with a “that’s interesting… how would we make that work?” might create whole new possibilities, rather than closing down the discussion from the start.

There has, for a long time in Western society, been a notion that everyone should be at least equally competent as everyone else in key areas. But is that really the case, and should not you be creating a team in your meetings with strengths in numerous areas. Play to those strengths, so people feel appreciated. You have the creative members and you also have the analysts and the enablers and people of action. Recognize where competency lies and work out who enjoys which tasks. If you burden someone who is really a creative with administrative tasks, they find irksome, then you are not using that person’s skills to the best of their ability and you are wasting their talent. Recognize this in the meeting room. Play to people’s strengths and their expertise so they feel fired up and energized to do more for you, so they are looking forward to the tasks they agree to do. This also is the key to motivation.

Play to people’s strengths and their expertise so they feel fired up and energized to do more for you, so they are looking forward to the tasks they agree to do.

Of course, all of this positive, positive, positive must come with a caveat. If you praise and keep the mood up all the time, you run the danger of overlooking problems and failing to raise legitimate objections. It is worth taking a moment to look at the negatives of a project or an idea under discussion, but in the context of making it even better. Rather than “what’s wrong with this idea” it might be worth asking “what problems would we need to overcome were we to implement this— and how would we do that?” This kind of framing means that you are not disappearing away on a tide of happy expectations not grounded in reality.

One study has even shown that higher performing teams have a higher ratio of positive to negative comments, somewhere between three and twelve positive comments to one negative works well. Go beyond this and the useful criticism is lost. Whether you can force high performance by forcing higher ratios of positive comments is debatable, but remember positive psychology is looking for indicators of excellence in performance. So, it is definitely something to bear in mind.

Finally, when your meeting is drawing to its close, make sure you have reached the desired outcome you wanted at the beginning, or you have overshot it. Make sure the team knows where they are heading and the tasks they need to do and get them ready to report back on how far they have advanced come the next meeting. And of course, thank everyone for their contribution.

From here, it sounds like it was a great meeting!

 

The article is based on the book The Question: Find Your True Purpose.