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Fix Your Meetings … with Shakespeare

Reclaim purpose and restore sanity

It happens all the time. You spend a couple hours in a meeting and leave without a plan, a decision or even a next step. Well, you don’t have to meeting this way. After all, you have Shakespeare.

You heard right: Shakespeare tells you how to meeting. Whether you’re a leader looking for a better approach or an employee hungry for purpose, the Bard offers some pretty choice moves to fix what’s broken. No need to read his nine plays on Tudor history (unless you want to). We’ll spell it out in a 5-minute post so you can be an agent of change—and, perhaps, the hero of the office.

Assess your leadership.

Let’s be honest: Meeting problems usually start with leaders. Shakespeare’s plays show us some familiar types. Recognize any of these in your meeting?

Richard II – The Waffler. Intelligent but indecisive; wastes time on old or irrelevant topics; likes authority but won’t accept responsibility; fears failure and, therefore, fails to act; yields to situational pressure, which means workers live in a world of contradiction.

Henry IV – The Sledgehammer. Qualified but accustomed to being right; can strong-arm and rub workers raw; aggressive with opinions and defensive when questioned; disinterested and dismissive of opposition; breeds unintended resentment.

Richard III ­– The Snake. Capable, in a bad way; self-interested and intent on using others to achieve personal goals; creates ethical and pragmatic dilemmas; wants workers to stop asking questions and “just get it done.”

Now, if you recognize some of these attributes in your boss (or yourself), that doesn’t make them (or you) a villain. It means there’s a problem to fix. Assessing how the meetings run helps identify exactly what needs fixing. So, let’s jump to how.

Start with soft influence.

Employees in bad meetings share a common struggle: powerlessness. Even so, the odds are that under the thick silence of boredom, anger and exhaustion, game-changing ideas lie un-accessed. In fact, awful meetings are the perfect foil for great ideas—if you are in a position to hear them and are motivated to act.

Henry V, or Prince Hal, as the common folk called him, knew this and used it. He noticed, “Wisdom cries out in the streets, and no man regards it.” Get on the perimeter, like Hal, and listen to your talented co-workers. People are happy to share ideas as long you’re careful not to add to their workload. That means instead of scheduling another meeting to talk about how to fix these meetings, meet people where they are—or want to be. Shakespeare doesn’t mention tacos, so we’ll blame that on his editors.

Shape the conversation.

If you have a bold new idea, why test the Fates? The truth is that you may only have minutes to present, explain and argue your position in a meeting. So consider “in a meeting” to be the operative words.

Prince Hal understood this premise, so he became an expert at conversation shaping, anticipating discussion points and talking with influencers in private, long before meeting in public. Doing so, he was better able to discern motivations and present mutual benefits. For you, it offers your leader and coworkers proof that you value their opinions and are interested in their objectives. You’re an asset, not an obstacle.

This is consensus building, and it’s vital when you’re not the ultimate decider (and it’s still a powerful tool when you are). Shaping conversation primes participants.

Be an actor.

Later, when Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, he says it best: “You know your places. God be with you all!” In this obvious reference to meetings, he hits the nail on the head: Know your place. Play the part you need to play in the meeting to ensure you reach the last act. That may mean grafting others into conversation at the appropriate time. Or sharing how the new idea achieves the corporate goal. Or asking questions that prime the room.

The point is this: Play your part. And, like any good actor, play it with conviction.

Share the glory.

It may take five acts, but you can effect change. You can decrease hours spent in the conference room and increase hours spent in production. Beyond doubt, that’s what Shakespeare intended.

And when that happens, remember those who bled with you. You know, those happy few.

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