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7 Techniques for Building Consensus in Business Meetings By Jill Huselton

AgreementCollaborate, Don’t Compete

“Attacking someone’s ideas puts them into fight-or-flight mode. Once they’re on edge, there will be no getting through to them,” Baer cautions. Instead, he recommends “extreme agreement.”

He explains: “Take your conversational partner’s views and advance them to their logical—and perhaps absurd—conclusion.” In either case, discussion is more apt to move beyond dueling viewpoints to some sort of resolution.

Turn Talk to “How” not “Why”

Baer cites a 2013 University of Colorado study in which people were asked to explain “why their opinions were right” or “how their ideals could be turned into actual policy.”

Those in the “how” group tended to soften their positions after given the task of articulating the mechanics of implementing their point of view. Perhaps because asking “how” invokes pragmatism while pressing for “why” may engage more emotion.

Make Open-Ended Requests

Like focusing on “how,” posing open-ended inquiries can transform competitive interactions into collaborative ones by engaging a person’s creativity and critical thinking. Rather than dismissing or avoiding disputed ideas, encourage a quick exploration by saying “That’s interesting. Tell us how your approach will work.”

For this technique to be effective, the requester must be careful to strike an optimistic tone. Any hint of sarcasm would be counterproductive.

Show with the Tell

Baer refers to research from Cornell University that shows people tend to trust scientists. “Thus, doing things that make you appear scientific—like using a graph—makes you more trustworthy,” he says.

Of course, graphic support when participating in a meeting with web or video conferencing may take some extra work. But the impact is worth the effort. Concise points are quickly made. And anyone concerned about the best use of time appreciates a takeaway chart for later reference.

Tell Stories Featuring Numbers

Even if you don’t have time to make charts or graphs, you can speak in word pictures, i.e., choose anecdotes that meeting participants can see in their heads. Use numbers when appropriate because they stand out in a sentence.

This technique is easier to demonstrate than describe. For example, don’t say “I performed a verbal survey of our marketing department, and 66% of respondents reported the new brochure is ineffective.” Instead, try “I sat down with all 10 members of the marketing team, and six of them said they saw our new brochure in waste baskets when visiting our customers.”

Let Confidence Lead

Studies show people tend to gravitate to those who express positions with conviction. Certainly not surprising in a society that reveres—and fears—the art of public speaking. (For more on this point, see our recent post “3 Pointers for Quelling Public-Speaking Jitters.”)

This technique is related to the bullets about focusing on “how” and using “open-ended” statements. Invite participants with strong ideas—and feelings—to elaborate on their positions. Of course, first let them know how much time is available to them.

Flip Your Response

Lambert advocates a simple verbal tactic that some persuasive communication specialists call “Inversion.” Rather than rebut a meeting participant’s opinion by saying “I disagree,” first do the work of explaining your position. Then, conclude with: “That’s why you and I see the situation differently.”

This approach operationalizes Baer’s admonition to “Be Civil.” The emphasis shifts from the person to the details, which, unlike emotions, can be discussed or deferred. Either way—the meeting’s moving forward.

What ways have you found that work to keep your meetings on track? Are there different tactics based on who you’re meeting with our how you’re hosting the meeting? Share your ideas below!