Seem familiar?

Time is short and your group has to make a decision. Everyone likes the idea of open and honest exchanges of views, but now your meeting has lost direction.

The atmosphere becomes steadily more heated and adversarial as various personalities assert their viewpoints.

You try to intervene, but someone puts you down. You feel tense and increasingly anxious. You realise that nothing useful will come of your meeting.

There’s a solution.

Ideally, you’ll need everyone committed to new ways of observing and behaving.

See if you can get that commitment before your next meeting begins. Look back on what went wrong and propose a better way. Introduce it as a reboot.

It might sound like this...

“Can we agree that from now on we will pay conscious attention to respecting our own and others feelings?”

Suggest that they be more aware of what they are telling themselves and how they are feeling so they can come up with a more considered response to other people’s points of view.

You might have to point out that the alternative is shooting from the lip and the heated, unproductive chaos of the previous meeting.

Deep breathing - really

‘Take (slow) deep breaths and relax’ does work. The pause also gives us time to think of a response that will add real value to the meeting. The best response is often the second or third thing we think to say.

Suggest that everyone focuses on the impression they want to make on everyone attending. You might provide some examples: maybe to build their reputation as a professional, someone who is calm in a crisis, someone who thinks deeply after really listening to others - or someone who is seen as unhelpful, self-focused, domineering, even a street brawler. (Match the descriptions to your culture without making it seem like you are wagging your finger at individuals.)

Lead by example

Listen more. Acknowledge others' perspectives. Nod. Take in information that allows you to make the best response. Speak briefly, with reasons, and summarise often.

That combination will show your colleagues a more mindful way of interacting and positively supports the kind of culture that make meetings flow well.