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5 ways to make your meetings more positive

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 26/06/2015 Michelle McQuaid

© Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images When it comes to the meetings you run at work do you know how to bring out the best in the people attending? Researchers estimate we spend 37 percent of our time in meetings at work and that up to 50 percent of this time is completely wasted. 

Of course one of the problems is that decisions are rarely made in meetings. Instead we talk and talk and talk some more, and then when the clock strikes the hour the meeting ends abruptly and everyone rushes out the door leaving little time to clarify outcomes or any commitment to next steps. As a result most meetings feel like a complete waste of time and drain on our energy.

But aside from basic meeting etiquette such as providing an agenda and relevant materials in advance, starting and stopping on time and capturing and communicating key actions steps or decisions after the meeting, are there things you can do to make your meetings more effective, energizing and maybe even an enjoyable experience?

Once you have the right people in the room, it appears the secret to an effective meeting may lie in creating the right mood. Yes you heard me; it's all about the mood.

You see Dr. Daniel Goleman, one of the world's leading researchers in emotional and social intelligence, estimates that 20 - 30 percent of employee performance is determined by people's mood.

Why? Well Professor Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like interest, awe, pride, amusement, gratitude to name just a few, don't just trade our good thoughts for bad ones, rather they literally broaden the way our brains are working. 

For example, when you experience positive emotions the research suggests:

  • Your field of peripheral vision is expanded so you can take in about 75 percent of what's happening, versus 15 percent in a neutral or negative mood.
  • Your brain is flooded with dopamine and serotonin helping you to make and sustain more neural connections so you can organize new information, think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving and see and invent new ways of doing things.
  • And because your brain feels safe, you think more about we and how to collaborate with people around you, compared to when it's in survival mode and thinking only about me. 

Fredrickson has also found far from being fleeting experiences, as positive emotions accrue over time it's like money in the bank for a rainy day with longitudinal studies finding as your positive emotions accumulate, they build your psychological, intellectual, social and physical resources leaving you better equipped to navigate the lows and highs we all experience at work.

Fredrickson concluded that positive emotions help to broaden and build our minds so we can see new possibilities, bounce back from setbacks, better connect with others and reach our potential.

So how do you apply all of that in your next meeting to shape the mood?

After more than a decade as a senior leader in large organizations around the world here are five ways I helped my team -- no matter how many people were involved or how many of us were in the room or on a phone -- inject some positivity into our meetings:

1. Start with sizzle

© Jetta Productions/Blend Image/Corbis When people turn up to your meeting their brains are all in different states based on where they've come from previously. In order to get them into a broadened state of mind you want to inject some positivity by asking "What's working well?", sharing a funny story or joke, using a good video clip or even trying a silly (but task related) quiz or game to get people laughing and feeling good.

2. Plan your agenda mindfully

Every action we take is preceded by a question, and taking action is generally the goal of most meetings. When we're asked a question it triggers dopamine - one of the feel good chemicals in our brain -- as we start to imagine what might be possible and helps to prepare us for action. Instead of focusing your agenda on statements, try to focus on the questions you think the meeting needs to be asking and exploring.

3. Design the meeting around people's strengths 

© Corbis Think about who will be attending the meeting and which strengths people bring. Remember, when we have a chance to use our strengths researchers suggest we're up to six times more engaged in what we're doing. What roles and opportunities can you create in the meeting for people to have a chance to do what they do best and be valued for their contributions?

4. Reward people with growth opportunities

Let's face it none of us really want to attend another meeting, so build in a little reward for people making the effort to be present. We're born creatures of growth so are there small moments of learning you can offer people attending your meeting that they wouldn't get otherwise like a special guest, new research discoveries or insights?

5. Finish with a peak-end

© OJO Images/Rex Features Our memories of events are shaped by endings, so ensure you leave enough time to finish on a positive note. Rather than having people scrambling for the door, leave time to inject a little positive emotion at the end with heartfelt appreciation, a funny story or video or prizes from your earlier quiz or game. This way they'll be more likely to remember your meeting fondly and turn up enthusiastically next time!

None of this is rocket science. But by using these five simple steps, particularly in teams where I relied on a lot of internal volunteers to help me deliver outcomes, I actually managed to grow the attendance at my meetings over the years. I know, go figure! People actually wanted to be in a meeting. As a result many aligned and committed hands made much lighter work for me of what could have been very difficult projects to implement.

Of course it didn't mean we dodged the tough conversations we needed to have in our meetings. Only that as the chairperson I used mood mindfully -- positive, neutral and negative -- to help people perform at their best, rather than simply expecting this would organically happen.

What mood do you want to create for your next meeting?

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