“When someone feels genuinely listened to you reset the conversation.”

“When someone feels genuinely listened to you reset the conversation.”

Can you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs? Jackie Weaver can.

A viral sensation, the video from Handforth Parish Council’s meeting has dropped a meme likely to remain topical for years to come.

Millions of us watched aghast at the squabbling Cheshire councillors until calm and composed clerk, Jackie Weaver, ordered the irate chairperson from the Zoom meeting (followed by the vice-chair who stormed off his sofa in solidarity).

With the two main antagonists removed, the meeting resumed at a more modest tempo with a polite, collaborative ambience now settling over the call.

Speaking to LBC on Friday, Jackie made no bones about how good it felt stand up for herself noting, “The councillors were absolutely out of order’’.

Jackie went on, speaking to the aggression obvious as the meeting began, saying: “I think there’s a couple of things. This has gone on in Handforth for some period of time and I think people were very frustrated.  But I guess the more serious point, having listened to it being replayed once or twice since, I kind of feel that maybe an underlying part of it was they just didn’t like being told no by a woman.”

Astonishing, isn’t it? And not so unusual. Many of us will have sat through business webinars where the person with the loudest voice dominates the conversation or where heated points of view mean it becomes impossible to find a way through.

By now you’re probably wondering how you might have handled the emotionally charged Parish Council meeting and what it takes to run a meeting where no one voice dominates and where everyone feels comfortable speaking up

How’s that possible? Well, here’s a start:

SET EXPECTATIONS – Agree etiquette and behaviour at the start of your meeting. On a virtual platform ask everyone to keep their microphone muted and use the chat box to raise questions. Link the behaviour you want from them to a benefit for them. Try saying, “We’ll have a more productive and efficient meeting if we don’t talk over each other and this way we can give everyone the opportunity to be heard.” This is the important bit: Get everyone to agree. In his book ‘Pre-Suasion’ Robert Cialdini described 6 principles of persuasion, one being consensus; people will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own. Simply put, if everyone agrees on the behaviours and etiquette, they are more likely to demonstrate them.

EMPATHY – When met with a challenging question many people respond defensively – witness the head-butting chaos of the Handforth Zoom meeting. The point is you need to take a breath and allow yourself some time to understand the question and clear some thinking space. You can do this by being empathic. To be clear, empathy doesn’t mean you are agreeing with the other person; what it means is putting yourself into their shoes – their mindset perhaps – to see things from their perspective. A terrific way to do this is by asking some open questions using the T.E.D acronym.

‘Can you TELL me why you feel that way?’  

‘Can EXPLAIN the situation you’re in at the moment?’

‘Can you DESCRIBE some of the impacts for your team?’

Consider this: When someone feels genuinely listened to you reset the conversation, turning down the heat and creating the conditions for a productive conversation without the emotional undertone. 

LISTEN – Previous blogs have highlighted the importance of listening. I’m going to do the same here. And when I talk about listening, I don’t mean pretending to listen – you know, nodding your head, but really thinking about what you want to say next. The secret is to listen with the intent to understand. To unpack that a little, what I mean is you are listening empathically looking to find a response which shines more light, and less heat, on the topic.

WHO ARE YOU? – In a moment I’m going to tell you why you need to be more like Yoda than Luke (or Dumbledore than Harry Potter). The simple truth is we’re all characters in our business story, and most of us think of ourselves as the problem solver, the hero, here to save the day. Surprisingly, it turns out this “Me-Hero” approach is plain wrong. Here’s why. If you make yourself the hero, who is your audience? The villain? The underdog? The sidekick? The answer is to make your audience the hero with your role being the mentor, to take them on the the journey which gets them to where they want to be. Be Like Mr Miyagi in the Karate Kid, because when people are supported and encouraged, they are motivated and empowered to take on anything.

STAY IN CONTROL – You know how you can feel your mind beginning to race away when things start getting lively? Don’t be that person, be the voice of calm. The trick is to slow the pace of your speech down – slower and more deliberate -, use lower vocal tones, keep gestures firm and measured while maintaining good eye contact. 

One last thing before I finish. I just want to mention the alternative practical approach to dealing with troublesome Zoom attendees. Jackie Weaver knows this approach. To be clear, I’m no expert around the rules of Parish Meetings so I can’t say whether Jackie had authority or not but what she did have was the ability to stay calm and, when all else failed, deployed a simple plan, well executed – the pressing of the Zoom eject button!

Would you like to improve your presentation skills or virtual communication? Our online courses will help increase your presence and impact in a virtual environment plus we’ll share strategies to keep your audience engaged and committed. Find out more here.

Alina Jenkins
by Alina Jenkins
on 17th February 2021

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