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As I consult with companies around the world, I hear over and over complaints about meetings, as if they were the bane of the workplace. They often are, but they certainly don’t have to be.

On its website the US State Department offers Seven Norms of Collaborative Work. After combining and rearranging the Norms, I share six here. six letter p-sI am confident that if you take them to heart, you and your team will begin having much more productive meetings.

Below the 6 Ps, I’ve included an exercise you can use to make sure you embed these productive meeting techniques into every meeting you hold.

1. Presume Positive Intent

Without trust, meetings quickly evolve into a waste of time. So before beginning any meeting, assume that everyone involved has arrived with good intentions. This ground rule goes especially for those with whom you disagree. Healthy disagreement can exist and even thrive within a productive meeting, as long as trust pervades. Don’t invite people you don’t trust. If they have to be invited, resolve your issues before the meeting. Do you clearly state the purpose of your meeting?

2. Pay Attention

People collaborate best when everyone involved stays keenly aware of what they and everyone else are saying and doing. Stay tuned into not just what others are saying but how they say it and how they respond to what you and others say and do. Know yourself first—what you want and what you intend to accomplish in the meeting. Then pay close attention to the same in your fellow participants. Do you keep everyone aligned toward the purpose without veering off topic?

3. Pause

Studies show that slowing down the pace of meeting presentations can dramatically improve the critical-thinking and decision-making performance of the participants. Pausing sets a relaxed tone, which gives you and your participants time to listen and digest what goes on. It also signals to others that you are attentive and gives you more time to consider and respond properly to the rational and emotional reactions of the participants. Is your agenda planning done well—not too jam packed?

4. Paraphrase

When you recast what someone has said in a meeting, you help yourself and other participants understand more than just the literal meaning of what they have put forward. Your own words add dimension and nuance to the other ideas and shows people that you value their input. Using your own words, rather than parroting another’s remarks, also prevents misunderstanding by clarifying what might have been misunderstood. Are you inclusive?

5. Put Forward Ideas

Everyone in a meeting should be able to and encouraged to contribute ideas. It’s necessary, therefore, to establish and maintain a meeting atmosphere conducive to contribution. Keep your fluent contributors going and encourage participants who seem less confident. Lead by example. If meeting members see you taking bold chances by offering highly creative ideas, they will more than likely join in. Above all, discourage and call out unconstructive criticism. Do your meetings generate ideas?

6. Probe

Well-aligned teams naturally and respectfully challenge each other with probing questions. They ask others to define terms and clarify cloudy concepts in order to draw out more information and to increase the precision of everyone’s understanding. They use both sides of the Inquiry/Advocacy equation with an emphasis on Inquiry to gain greater understanding and Advocacy to bring a discussion toward decision making. Do you have a list of best-practice questions?

6 Ps Exercise

  1. Gather your team and share the 6 Ps.
  2. Assign one of the Ps to each team member and ask them to record each time another team member uses that P in a meeting. Set a goal for the number of times you would like each of the 6 Ps to happen.
  3. At the close of your next meeting ask team members to share their observations.
  4. Continue this process, assigning team members with different Ps each time, until you and your team reach the goals you have given yourselves or until you all agree that your meetings have become markedly more productive.
  5. If you slip back into your old bad habits or after you add several team members, redo the exercise.

More Help with Meetings

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
Meeting Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings That Get Results by Glenn Parker and Robert Hoffman


Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.