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Podcast Transcript

The Politics of Meetings

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership with Marsha Clark", where we believe there's a better way to be a woman today. With research tools, books, and our own personal experiences, join us on this journey because in every episode, we're uncovering what it actually takes to be a powerful leader in our organizations, our communities and our lives!  Marsha, welcome, and what will we be talking about this week?

Marsha Clark  0:44  
Well, thank you very much, Wendi. And I, too, would like to say hello to all of our listeners, and welcome back. This week, we're going to talk about the politics of meetings. And even when you hear the word "meetings"...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:56  
I know, kinda crazy shiver

Marsha Clark  0:57  
... It gives us a bit of a shiver. So it because it's one of those places where we spend a lot of time and oftentimes we don't feel like it's necessarily time well spent. So what I want to share with our listeners today are some thoughts about timing, as well as some tips if you're going to be the person leading the meeting, and then also had to ensure that you get your voice into the conversation. So let's go!

Awesome... Okay, so for me, when I think of meetings, it's often with dread. Because it's either going to be a time waster, or it's going to be a conversational circle, which again, is a time waster. It's just not...  it's just going to wander around the pasture pretty much. Is that common?

Yeah, I'm sad to say that it is. What I hear from whether it be in the programs where I'm teaching, or whether it be with coaching clients, men, women, you know, young and old all around the world. And when I, the part of it, that makes it so, so frustrating is because most of the people that I work with a know are in back to back to back to back meetings. They get triple booked,. They get quadruple booked, so it's not just... I could only be in one place at one time, but just the overwhelm of how many meetings that takes in each and every one of our jobs.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:16  
Right. Right. So what is it that makes meetings so ineffective? And that dreaded experience?

Marsha Clark  2:23  
Well, I think it goes back to your point about time waster because and so what I'm going to tell you that one of the most important things, and if you do nothing else, start with the clarity of "what is the purpose or objective of this meeting?" I can't tell you how many times I hear and how many times I have to do the follow up that says what are we trying to accomplish in this meeting? What's the objective of the meeting, because if we're not clear about that, I just show up. And maybe I'm not prepared, maybe I haven't done my homework, maybe I didn't bring what you thought I should be bringing. So you're disappointed, I'm disappointed, or and then all the things that go around getting off track. And if you don't have that clear objective up front, the likelihood of a meeting going awry is high.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:12  
Right? So if I'm leading a meeting, how do I do that effectively, so that my meetings don't fall into that dreaded category?

Marsha Clark  3:21  
Well, as I said, even when you send out the meeting invitation, then make sure you have the clarity of the objective or purpose of the meeting. If there are specific expectations, you have the people attending the meeting, you want to state that as well. So what I'm going to offer to our listeners now is a checklist. So get ready, however you want to record this information. So the first is clearly stated objective. And you want to be clear about whether it's a single purpose meeting, or a multi purpose meeting. So sometimes we have meetings and it's only about one project one topic, one sales deal, one initiative, something like that, in which case, you have an overarching objective. And you again, state your expectations about how prepared you want people to come to the meeting. The second, and this is particularly important in multi-topic kinds of meetings is that you have an agenda. And on that agenda, there's some really specific things you want to send it out in the meeting invite because that too allows people to know and understand how to come better prepared. So you wouldn't be able to state the topic that you want to cover the purpose within that topic. Because I want you to think about you know, for Project day we might be brainstorming on ideas about how to approach something, and topic B or line item be on the agenda. It may be we're gonna make a decision and you know, topic three, it could be problem solving. So, you want to get clear when there's multiple topics because they may not all have that same objective. And then the other thing you want to make sure that you include is how much time are you going to spend on each of those topics, so that the person who is leading that part of the meeting, because it may not always be the same person, the person who's leading that knows how to manage that time within that line item topic. So how much time who's leading it? What's the purpose, and being really clear and sending that up front. And then the last piece, and this is another one of those sticking points. If I expect people to read material and come prepared to discuss that material, I must give them enough time, in light of all the busyness that goes on in every single person's role in job. And depending on the complexity in the volume, I have to give them enough time to send that information out in advance to, you know, really allow for the time to review it and be ready with it. And don't just think about what your topic is. Because if it's one of those multi topic meetings, they may be receiving something from you windy, something for me something from someone else, and all of a sudden, I've got four presentations to review. And when I get those at midnight, you know, on the day before the meeting starts at 830. You know, don't be surprised if they're not prepared. So that's how we can help, you know, advance the kinds of line items that we have responsibility for on that agenda.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:33  
Yep. And now I'm realizing as I'm listening to you to you walk through all of these different pieces, that it's a lot of pre-work on my part, if I'm the leader of the meeting. Is it really necessary?

Marsha Clark  6:50  
There's always that, "Don't you know how busy I am?" So here's the reality. There's two things that come to mind... You can either pay me a little more now, on the front end of all of this, or you're gonna pay me a whole lot more later on. Right? Exactly why you have to have a meeting? And then you have to have another meeting? And then you have to have another meeting? Because you didn't do the first one right? You know, so I didn't come prepared. I didn't know what you expected, I didn't have time to review the material. So I got to set another meeting. So there's that pay me now or pay me more later. And then I think this is where one of our foundational elements also comes into play, which is to "slow down to speed up," right? If I'm willing to slow down for a minute. Because if I'm not even clear what I want to get out of this meeting, how can I expect anybody else to be clear?  So, I've got to stop in that regard as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:37  
Okay. Okay. What about, because this is my biggest pet peeve, what about people who show up late to the meeting?

Marsha Clark  7:45  
Yeah, well, because these meetings are scheduled back to back to back to back that I mean, that's a part of the, "UGH" of this. So one thing is, rather than set meetings for an hour, do yourself and everybody else a favor, you can set them for 45 to 50 minutes, which allows you to either, you know, put your pen down, take a breath, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, whatever it may be right. Or, if I'm physically having to walk from one meeting to the next, it gives me a little time to do that as well. So that reduces the likelihood. And I guarantee you, I guarantee you that you'll get as much done in 50 minutes. If you're running efficient meetings, you don't need that full hour. So that's one thing. The second is to start and end them on time. So these meetings that go on and on and on and on and on, also is a part of by the end of the day, the person who gets the four o'clock meeting might start at five o'clock or has to be rescheduled. So make sure that you are clear about that. And then the other piece is if people are late, you want to set the expectation that you're not going to restart the meeting, every time a new person comes in, that it's their responsibility to find out what they missed, and to get caught up on it. Because here, I'm going to go back to a couple of other, you know, teaching points that you're going to hear throughout this podcast. One is we're teaching people that it's okay to be late, if they have no consequences, right? If it's all on me as the meeting facilitator, or it's an imposition on all the other meeting participants, that the consequences are on us not on the person who shows up late and so we want to make sure they understand that. And then, you know, oftentimes what I've heard is, you know, if you just calculated the waste of time, and therefore the money spent of all the people sitting around that table, it will often get your attention that you've just wasted 15 minutes of 10 people's time at this many dollars per minute. Oh, my gosh, yes. And it goes up and up. And that's typically how you get people's attention is tell them how much it's costing them. Now the other thing is, I know a lot of groups and teams over the years have taken this if your like, you pay $1 for every minute or $5, you know, flat fee or whatever, and then we give that to a charity or whatever. Or for some it's go to happy hour. I'm not a big proponent of that. Because for one thing, I don't know if $1 or $5 would prevent people from being late or not. And I'm not trying to take anything away from charitable contributions, right? I just don't I just think, well, it's really easy to pull out $1 and throw it on the table and you know, be late again and again and again. So I'm not sure it's really much of a deterrent.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:31  
Yeah, I think your phrase we teach people how to treat us is even more powerful. Like I see that with, you know, just everyone in your life, whether it's your spouse, your children, your friends, your work colleagues. I mean, it all kind of, you know, that phrase that statement is, is applicable to everyone in your world.

Marsha Clark  10:57  
Well, it is. And it's a perfect example of, you know, when we tolerate the late behavior, or when we accommodate the person who comes in late, we are teaching them how to treat us that it's okay to be late. And pretty soon, meeting start times mean nothing. So it's a very slippery slope, we tolerate the lateness. And that's how meeting mechanics and meeting effectiveness can be eroded.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:21  
Yep. So are there any exceptions? And if so, what exceptions do you take into consideration for this start on time rule?

Marsha Clark  11:31  
Well, the two obvious ones are boss and client, guys, because they're the people with a positional power in the case of the boss, and then the client or the prospect, you know, if we're set in a selling situation is, you know, that we're there to serve them. So we're a bit on their schedule, not on our own. And yet, I one thing I would ask everyone to discern, is this a pattern of always light? Or is it a one off exception. So in and of itself, those are you would handle those two different ways. If it's an exception, you just keep you get everybody caught up in you move on. If it's a pattern, one of the things that I've done that has been quite successful is one, to let the customer know that I'm going to hold up the meeting until they arrive, or the boss can work with either of those. And a couple of things can happen, they can say thank you please do or they can say, Oh, don't wait on me, I'll catch up. So you get that up front approval to go ahead and start the meeting on time in order to honor and respect everyone else's time. And you're also putting the boss or the client on notice that we're going to we're not going to stop the world when you walk in the door. We're going to keep right on going. And then the other thing that I have seen is that because of this back to back meeting approach, I've asked both a boss and a client, I noticed that you're typically around 15 minutes late. And I'm wondering because I know you have a meeting ahead of time, would it be helpful if we delayed the start of our meeting until 1015. Now that may alleviate alleviate all, you know, lateness problems, but you're putting people on notice, you're managing expectations, often the boss or client will say, keep right, of course, start on time and keep right on going. I'll catch myself up, which gives you the meeting facilitator permission to do exactly that. So that that I think are those are the important things that I think we can do to get the person to know what we're doing, manage the expectations and then act accordingly.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:35  
Absolutely. Those exceptions and tips make sense. Because managing up and up being a client or up being your boss can be tricky sometimes. So what about the people in the meetings who dominate the conversation? Take it off track? THOSE people...

Marsha Clark  13:55  
You know, just like we can always say who's gonna be like we can always you know, the "Take It Down All These Side Stories?" Yes. So this is where, clearly stating the purpose of the meeting up front is going to be really important. And there's also a little bit if you allow time for the questions and answers the q&a part, you got to have the fine balance associated with all of that. So if a person asked questions that you can't quite understand how it relates to what we're trying to accomplish here, you can do a couple of things. You can either what I've done and make it a practice to do is to say, I hear that question. Help me understand how that's going to help us achieve this objective, right? That whatever the meeting or topic objective is, oftentimes they'll say, Well, it really does it. And then I'll say, you know, I'll say something. Let's take that offline because if you want that information, but we'll get it for you, but just now's not the right time to do that. The other thing is I've often heard something from that person where they're seeing a connection that was not clear evident to me, in which case, it's an important question for all of us to hear, because we're bringing in more relevant information, maybe from that person's experience or functional responsibilities, or whatever the case may be. So I think we've got to, we've got to be prepared to know, whether it's, it's, it truly is relevant or not, but we have to ask that question. And we always have to keep bringing it back to the purpose and objective of the meeting. Okay. Now, there's a couple of other things I want to say about this as well. Recognize that for some people, the reason they're trying to either contribute or ask a question or whatever, is that they aren't prepared. And they want to ask a lot of questions. So in which case, you know, against any material ahead of time, or you can just reference that to them responding to them to say, if you'll if you'll may want to go back and take a look at the material we send ahead of time, because I think you'll find the answer there. Then some people might just want to show you how much they know, right? So this dominate the airtime is see how smart I am kind of thing. Some people are just curious, you know, they connect everything to everything else, and they just, you know, get caught up in that. And then others are trying to stall a decision because they think the decisions not going to be what they like, or they're just trying to wield influence in the group to get what they want. So you have to look at each one of those and keep and understand it. And yet, the bottom line is keep bringing it back to how does that help us achieve the objective of what we're trying to do here?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:47  
I'm hearing a little bit that you kind of have to be a psychologist to lead a meeting. I mean, it's because you're getting into the granular deep level of what are people's motivations when they're trying to take the meeting off track or offline or dominate the conversation in the room. I mean, that's, that's really deep, but I'm loving that you're giving solid solutions on how how to cut it off how to address it, but still be professional and yet kind at the same time as kind as possible. So I think the automatic response when people get when someone in the meeting goes off topic is to kind of shut it down and assume what they're saying isn't of any real value. Talk to us about that?

Marsha Clark  17:38  
Well, I agree with you, you either shut it down, or you shut them off.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:43  

Marsha Clark  17:43  
Shut him out. You don't listen anymore. Or, you start doing emails or whatever you do something for yourself. Here's what I will tell you as the meeting facilitator... It is your job, it is my job when I'm in that role, to make sure that everyone is engaged, and engaging. And that's why you can't let one or two people overwhelm or override. And so you know, you got to make sure that everybody feels like their voice and their contributions are valued and, and welcomed. And yet, you gotta just strike that balance. And you know, the psychology of it, I agree with you. And yet, I'm a big believer that intentions matter. And whether we know, if the story we're making up about that person is true or not, we're still holding the story. And we're then responding accordingly. And that's why I say regardless of intention, regardless of person, regardless of pattern, you want to come back in and say, Tell me how that helps us achieve what we're trying to achieve.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:47  
Right. And to me, that sounds like you're ensuring that everyone's contribution is not only invited, but also considered. So what are some suggestions that you have to help us do that better?

Marsha Clark  19:01  
Well, so I have to, I mean, there are lots of different ways you can facilitate meetings, my two favorite ones are this. So one is called the round robin facilitation. And what that means is I'm going to go around the table or around the Zoom screen or whatever it may be. And I'm going to get input from every single person. That's a very inclusive way of facilitating, it's a way to get everyone's voice in the room because the research shows us that once I speak up once, it's easier for me to speak up a second or third or fourth time, it's that first time that I break, you know, into the conversation that's often the hardest. So "round robin" is when I truly do want to hear from every single person and I'm going to go around and be very specific about calling on people. And and I will tell you this too. When you say that's what you're going to do, people start thinking about, Okay, what do I want to contribute? And then the second form of facilitation is referred to as Pop Quiz Facilitation. So what that means is like corn popping right kernels popping, so it can pop up answers can pop up from anywhere. And you you have to decide as facilitator have we heard, you know, from enough of you that we feel like we've got the essence of whatever it is we're trying to the information we're trying to get to. And I will tell you that this is another tie back to get giving people information ahead of time, both in the agenda and prep materials. Because if I'm an introvert or an internal processor or an analytical thinker, if I send and do those things in advance, then when I do call on them, whether it be round robin or popcorn facilitation, they have a they have the had the time to prepare to contribute their best thinking and best work.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:52  
I love that. So your comments are now prompting another question for me who and this one ski? Who should be included in meetings? And if you want to talk about who should not, I'd love to hear that as well.

Marsha Clark  21:07  
Well, and this really even goes back to before you send the meeting request, right? You've got to know who you're sending it to. So this is probably, you know, really point one on the checklist. So and it can get tricky. And this is where what I would describe as some of the politics of meetings can come into play, and quite honestly can either work for us or work against us. So the simple answer, or sort of the obvious answer is invite the people that you think are able to help you achieve the objective of the meeting. And back to the objective, right, reinforcing the importance of that. And the tricky part is you want to be inclusive, and yet you don't want to have so many people in the room, that it's a waste of people's time, they're taking you off track, they're not as informed as they need to be all of that kind of thing. So, you know, the other thing that is, I guess I would call it a hot button of mine is when you have, you know, four people from the same department, when really all you need is one, you know, unless unless two people need to come to represent different aspects or something like that. But be careful about inviting four people from here and six people from over there. Because that's when it becomes unwieldy. And it's much easier to then get distracted. And if let's just say that your purpose is to get a decision on something, you want to make sure that you invite the people who have the authority to make that decision. Because it's another one of those where you get to the meeting, and you need to make the decision and the person is not in the room. And so have to have another meeting or you know, whether it be a collective meeting a one off meeting or whatever. And if you're the decision maker, and you're not able to be in that meeting, what I would encourage everyone to do is to determine Can I send someone else and give them decision making authority on my behalf for this particular meeting this particular situation this particular, you know, project or whatever. So, particularly important is decision makers in decision making meetings.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:21  
Yes, because there's nothing worse than sitting in a meeting where no one can finalize anything, because the people with the authority to say yes or no aren't even there.

Marsha Clark  23:32  
Does it remind you of when you got to buy a car and the salesman has to go back to the office and ask the manager he can give you this?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:39  
Yes, yes. Yes. It's it's frustrating. And it's a waste of time. I mean, but but then also, not all meetings are decision making decision making oriented. Sometimes we have meetings for other purposes, status updates, client updates, etc. Let's let's talk about that.

Marsha Clark  24:00  
Yeah, I, I think sometimes a phone call or an email would serve better than I mean, I have to ask myself, Do I need a meeting? Or can I do this in email? Or can I do this with a phone call or you know, whatever. And so I think the first question we have to ask, and I don't think there's any magic role, but if it's merely status updates, and we're just kind of going around the table, everybody's going I've done this, and I've done that, you know, I just would question whether that's a good use of a meeting or not, because, you know, we're going to talk in one of our later podcasts about using checks and balance tools to make sure that things are on track and, you know, managing expectations and that kind of thing. So I think you know that there's a lot of things that we we should challenge ourselves. Do I need to have a meeting or even do I have to have a weekly meeting? Can it be a bi weekly meeting or something? So I think we need to challenge we've just gotten into the default of let's just get everybody together.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  24:57  
Mm hmm. So true. So what's another example of the type of meeting that is appropriate for bringing people together?

Marsha Clark  25:07  
Yeah, I'm one that says if we're going to be doing, you know, brainstorming, or we've got a lot of visuals to cover, something like that, I know that a lot of the virtual platforms give that capability. But as a facilitator and meeting organizer, I want to see not only the data on the whatever visual we're sharing, I want to see the faces of the people because that's about reading the room. You know, people have quizzical looks, I want to I'll call out and say, Okay, I don't know how to read that face. Tell me what you're thinking. I'm not sure. And then I have them, you know, share what they're thinking feeling whatever. Another is, Are people checking out of the meeting, you know, this is one of the big topics right now with people turning off their, their video cameras on meetings. Yes. You don't know what they're doing? Laundry on the other Anzali? Yeah. So you know, whether it's collaboration, brainstorming, even problem solving with options, you know, those kinds of things, I think, those are other different kinds of meetings that you want to have, and you want to, I know, some would call me old school. But I also think there's something about the reading the the faces, the body language and the energy in the room.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:25  
And, I think people naturally give that when it's in person, whereas when it's a virtual Zoom call, or a video conference of some kind, WebEx whatever, you just don't get that feedback from people at all. And it's horrible. When you can see, yes, they showed up in there on camera, but there you can tell they're multitasking. They're over here doing whatever. So I know, I'm going off topic a little bit. But do you have any suggestions for that when a meeting is virtual, how to keep everyone engaged?

Marsha Clark  27:01  
Well, I think the part here is, you've got to set your expectations up front. And I start with a simple as I want you to have your cameras on today. I don't care if you're having a bad hair day, I don't care if you know you're in your pajamas, I need to see your face. And here's why. And I expect everyone to you know, participate, contribute. And I think the virtual meetings, there's the you know, Zoom fatigue, or however you want to describe all of that. And I think that's another place where you can say is it really necessary for some of these kinds of things? But I think, you know, what is? I think I heard in the last year that the most used phrase and businesses you're, you're still on mute.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:44  
Yes. Yes. Yeah. Which is, which is the upgraded version of "can you hear me now?" via Sprint?

Marsha Clark  27:51  
Right, right. And so I think we've got to, you know, maybe have some tips that we give to our teams about if we're going to do virtual meetings, here's some things I want you to think about. Here's some things I expect, we're going to go back to managing expectations.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:07  
So I'm sure that a lot of our listeners get multiple meeting requests for the same time slots every single day, etc. So what advice do you have for managing all the meeting requests that we get on a daily basis?

Marsha Clark  28:23  
Well, I encourage people to again, ask themselves, is this the meeting I have to go to? So I want to, I want to talk a little bit here about delegating more. So this is getting a bit into, you know, some of the more basic leadership stuff that we're going to talk about in subsequent podcasts. If it is a decision making authority meeting, and I need to be there, because I want to hear the data, before I make my decision or something like that, then I need to go to those meetings. If it's one of my top, I don't know, five, seven priorities that I'm going to be really held accountable for at the end of the year, or whatever I want to be in those meetings. If it's at date, status meetings, those kinds of things I want to make out, I want to consider that I'm going to send one of my people to those meetings. And what I encourage people to do is if you and one of your direct reports are in the meeting, one of you probably doesn't need to be there. So either key, so either free up their time and let them go get back to work, or free up your own time and let them now if you do that, here's what you want to do. You want to sit down with that direct report of yours and say, here's, here's the purpose of this meeting. What is this meeting and these are particularly good when it's recurring kinds of meetings. Here's what role we play our function plays in this meeting. I'm going to give you authority to make decisions as it relates to timelines, deliverables, allocation of resources, budgets, whatever those things are. And then this person that works for me who's now going to attend this meeting, I want you to come back and give me a summary of an hour long meeting, let's say, what was decided? What are the next steps? And are there any deliverables expected of us, meaning the collective department or team or whatever. Now that can take 15 minutes, and if it was an hour meeting, I've now given myself 45 minutes back.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:38  
Wow. And a whole lot less stress.

Marsha Clark  30:42  
Less stress, less frustration. And, just multiply that by how many meetings you could do that with. And now, you know, and the other thing I want to remind everybody is don't let that 45 minutes times, however many meetings, you're now delegating slip away from you being really clear and intentional about how you want to use that new found time.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:02  
Right. And also, this is just a side benefit, which I know you're gonna address in a later podcast as well, but I'm also recognizing that you're providing a leadership opportunity and a growth opportunity for someone on your team to attend this meeting instead of you.

Marsha Clark  31:19  
Well, I call it a real on-the-job training. Yes, mental experience. And here's what I would say. It's not just for the benefit of the person going to the meeting. And now having that, that opportunity. It also creates, I'll call it empathy, and compassion and insights about how things get decided around here, right. And maybe there are many facets that need to be considered when I've just been looking at it from my point of view. So all of a sudden, now my thinking is broadened. I now understand how things fit together. I understand how when I do this, that's a really bad thing for you know, the downstream part of the process. And so I become smarter and more effective in doing the work as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:04  
Where else do the politics of meetings fit in?

Marsha Clark  32:09  
Yeah, so there's two things I want to call out here. So one is often referred to as the meeting before the meeting. Oh, yes. Now, if you've been if you've been in most organizations, you've either learned this by trial and error, because you came to the meeting thinking we're going to talk about it and decide when you realize it was decided three days ago, and I'm on the golf course, yeah. Or we could be there could be at the lunch table could be in John's office, whatever it may be. Right. And so one, and I want to talk a little bit about how we use the meeting before the meeting. And and this is going to bring in the second concept, which is political, being politically savvy. Now, you know, I want to talk a little bit about what is the difference between being political and being politically savvy. And whenever I mentioned the word political, especially to a group of women, boy, do I get the groans? Oh, here we go. So being political for them is, it could mean the good old boys network or, you know, things are, you know, there, there's biases towards doing it the guy way, or that kind of thing, or this, this idea of, well, let me just share the definition of what the what I call my working definition of being political, being political is pushing my agenda, to the exclusion of all others, and often for self serving purposes. So I'm going to grease the skids, I'm gonna, you know, lay the foundation, I'm gonna you know, all of those kinds of things are code words for what we often see as being political. Now, the definition of being politically savvy, though, though, comparable in word means something very different. being politically savvy is understanding how to navigate and get things done within an organizational system, or process, however you want to think about that. So now, again, get your, you know, pen and paper or notes note taking devices ready because I want to talk about what it means to be politically savvy. So you need to know for different roles, and these are going to vary by situation or topic or objective. The first one you need to know is who is the decision maker? Or who are the decision makers? Because we often know that it requires we got to get a yes from this person before we take it to the next level to get the next yes to take it to the next level to get the next Yes. And so you got to know who all of those are. So that you know Are there meetings before the meetings I need to have? Do I need to be really clear with what my perspective and point of view is with this person and so on. And one of my, one of the women in one of the programs gave a great piece of advice, I think, which was never take no, from the person who is not the final. Yes. Wow. Because if I, yeah, I mean, think about that. Because if the first person I gotta, you know, get the yes from says, No, I have no shot at getting anything done, right? I just walk away and say, Well, I tried, well, no, not not good enough. So if you truly believe strongly enough in what it is, you're proposing, you're either going to take another trial and come back to that No, and say, you know, here's more information, here's more data, here's a stronger business case, whatever, or you're going to choose to escalate above that person and say, it means that much to me. So I got to stand in my, you know, courage of convictions, if you will, and move forward. So decision maker or makers, first people, you need to understand who that is.

The second is, who are my allies. And those are the people that in this particular scenario, or situation are the ones who I think, have a similar point of view, or are in agreement with whatever it is I'm trying to bring to the table and get accomplished or get done. Now, you want to have a meeting, before the meeting with your ally. And it's not just enough to ensure that you're both thinking the same way. With your ally, you also want to make an Ask make a request. When I get to slide 13, in my presentation, will you tell that story, you just told me because I think it's a great example, to reinforce why I'm proposing we do you know, A, B, or C. And so you're asking for their visible and vocal ally ship or support. So that's the second role. The third is Who are my adversaries who are the people that I know are going to bring a really different point of view of the table, or who are going to come at this from a very different perspective and are going to work really hard to get what they want. And, and therefore, you know, it puts us in a win lose. Now what I know from working with women will often avoid our adversaries like the plague, right? It'll be unpleasant. You know, I, here's what I'm going to tell you, you are much better equipped to deal with either minimizing neutralizing, or even eliminating the adversaries position if you know what it is. And you get clear about it. So now I can either bring counter information or data or research, or here's another thing that I have found for myself as well as other women is, I go in thinking this person is my adversary, I realize we agree on eight things, but there's only one or two things we don't agree on. Well, now we can focus in and say how do we get to the, you know, through working through those one or two things rather than thinking, you know, this person is going to scream, yell, holler, you know, whatever that may be. So having the meeting before the meeting with our adversaries is equally important to meeting with our allies. And then the last role in being politically savvy is who are the gate keepers. So think about a gate can be open or get can be close to me. So gatekeepers, are people who have information that you need in order to build your business case, or reinforce your recommendation or whatever that may be, they may be financial people who need to give you numbers, HR people who need to give you people information, you know, procurement supply chain, what a contract say whatever it may all may be. gatekeepers are also the executive assistants or professional assistants, because they can either give or deny access to a person's calendar, oftentimes, to either allow you to get that meeting before the meeting scheduled or God. So you want to make sure on every every single scenario, because in this case, one day, you may be my ally, but on the next topic or the next project, you could be an adversary on yet another topic, you could be a decision maker or a gatekeeper. So you want to do what I often refer to as political mapping, political savvy, mapping, and and if it's a really big, important visible high risk new project. You may divide up your own team to go do those meetings before the meetings based on who's playing what role in this particular situation.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:52  
Oh my gosh, this is so helpful and it really puts a different spin on just the loaded word political.

Marsha Clark  40:02  
Yeah. And in today's world that's even more loaded, right? So I think what if we start thinking about putting more emphasis on the savvy part that says we understand what it takes, who it takes, and what I need to do to make it be in getting something done in this particular organizational system.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:23  
So, I'm going to shift gears now a little bit, because I'm sure our listeners are eager to hear how they can make sure to get their voice, their perspective, their opinion, their just their point of view into the room.

Marsha Clark  40:37  
Yeah, this is this is yet another one of those oft heard laments from women. So so I'm going to take you through a couple of different pieces here. So there's various pieces of research out there, that talks about men, in particular will often occupies 70% of the airtime. So if a meeting is an hour long, they're going to take Yep, 70% of that. So and then the the other part of that is that it's often hard for women to get a word in edgewise. Or even when we do say something, it may I call it "the Plop." It's like, you know, "plop it out in the middle of the table and it just kind of lays there." So, and this is where our what I would describe as our good girl training of don't interrupt, be polite, and, you know, wait your turn...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:28  
And apologize if you did interrupt...

Marsha Clark  41:31  
Right, all those things.

And so that's where that can work against us. So, you know, here's what I'm gonna, again, I'm going to give you some tips on this. So one is be prepared, if you're going to come to the meeting, make sure you take time to read all those advanced material, make sure you have a point of view and perspective on those things that are relevant to you or your function or your role. And what I would say is come into that meeting, knowing the one or two or three points that you want to make sure, get spoken and heard in the meeting. So it's not you're not going to yell, you're not going to scream, you're not going to do all those kinds of things...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:14  
You're also not going to raise your hand like you're eight years old...

Marsha Clark  42:18  
Yes, you're not you're not in elementary school, the teacher or the meeting, facilitator will likely not call on you. And actually, in the middle, just keep brought on talking, and even some other women well, so this is not, you know, a specific gender thing, you want to get to the site. So one is be prepared and be ready to know what your key points are that you want to make. The second is get to the meeting on time, be the person who's there, because then you get to choose your seat. And here's what I want to tell this is always so fun. So sit next, on either the left hand side or the right hand side doesn't matter, the most influential person in the room. Now, we typically would say that the most influential person is the person with the highest positional power, right? So so if that if it's the VP, the SVP or whatever, then clearly they're the most influential. Most times that would be true. So if you don't know that's a good default. But the other if you are trying to figure out where maybe it's more a group of peers, or like level two people, notice who gets the most eye contact. So the social behavior analysts have tracked this. And so if you ask me a question, but I look at John, even when I'm answering your question, that tells the group that John is the person who's the most influential. So they do these sociogram, you know, diagrams, and they keep looking at where do the Where did the eye attention and facial, you know, reactions responses go. And that's how you determine so sit to the left or right of that. Now, this is this, this is not being manipulative, it is being strategic, because you could sit anywhere you wanted to, it's just a choice. So when you are in the eyesight of everyone who's giving eye contact to that most influential person, by visual proximity, you get to share some of that influential status, if you will.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:15  
Aura, glow, halo... I love it! Yes!

Marsha Clark  44:16  
That's right. That's right. Now, third tip. Third tip is if you can build this in either be the person who talks early, or the person who talks light. And here's the basis behind that. Our brains tend to operate in such a way that we remember the first thing and the last thing we heard everything in between that kind of gets lost or it's a gobbledygook mess, or we gone on you know, all these tangents but if I'm the first person to speak or the last person to speak, so kick off the meeting describe what the objectives are, or someone's bringing up a topic and you know that this is where you want to make your first three points. They the first Person jump in there and make a go of it. Or, and this is true even if you've not had a key point to make, but you want to make sure that people know you've been mentioned and listening, you can be the person who wraps up the meeting. So let's just say we're at the end of this. And so here's what I want to make sure we are all on the same page. So here are the decisions we've made. Here's the next steps. Here's our action items. You know, everybody good with that something along those lines, because now I'm adding value in that way, even if I didn't have particular key points to make.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:32  
Oh, that's, that's key. That's vital, because that's probably something that the meeting leader should, by the end of the meeting probably is too wiped out and exhausted to even think of. So if you're the person who is the person who kind of cohesively verbally, wraps the whole meeting up in a nice, neat package, I can, I'm just mentally seeing, you know, 10 or 12 people around a conference room table, like starting to nod their heads in agreement and write down their notes and their action items. That's fantastic.

Marsha Clark  46:05  
Well, and it helps us all get clear. Right, right. Maybe I wrote something down wrong. Well, now we get the chance to clarify exactly, yes, often does something that's ineffective. Now, the next thing is what can I do to intervene or interrupt. So there's two things I would recommend you do. You can either physically lean in, we all know that book by Sheryl Sandberg, right? This is a physical literal Lane in and I even encourage women to kind of extend their hand out. Because what happens there is because so many of us as adults are visual, the physical movement draws their eyes to you, the person who's leaning in and sticking their hand out to just say, I have something to say.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  46:51  
So you're saying that if so I'm mentally envisioning, like 10 to 12 people around an oval conference room table. And so if I've sat up and I'm kind of leaned into the table, you're saying to stick my just slide my hand my arm out towards the middle of the table. And then, just rest it there because that will catch everyone's eye.

Marsha Clark  47:14  
It will, it will be a slight break in the attention or focus of where they have been before. And then start talking immediately. Don't wait for acknowledgment, don't want to be invited. Start talking.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  47:27  
Alright, excellent. Excellent. What about standing up?

Marsha Clark  47:31  
Well, that was gonna be my next point. So another, and again, it's the same principle of movement. But if I stand up, and this is the old, there's the ploy of oh, I've been having problems with my back. So I'm standing up and standing behind my chair. Well, sometimes that's true. Sometimes it's not. Or maybe I walk over and get a bottle of water, or a cup of coffee or something. But I'm talking all the while. So the minute I stand out, eyes are drawn to me, I want to start talking. That's key. So laying in handout, stand up, and in both cases, start talking immediately. Now, if they talk over you or want to interrupt you just keep talking. Now, that's hard for us. Yes. So. And yet, if you keep talking it now it, look, there's going to be some people who say, Okay, this is a contest, and I'm going to win. So I'm going to keep talking to you, you know, you're going to have to play a little bit of that. But you're going to have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and keep talking, even though others may be still chatting or side conversations or whatever it may be, but stand strong in that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:45  
I love that. I mean, yes, it is completely difficult for us to do that. Because our tendency is to shut up and yield the floor and Oh, okay. So there's a new skill for all of us to learn. So what's, what's the idea of amplification if agreement happens?

Marsha Clark  49:05  
Yeah. So this is a little bit akin to know who your allies are. So amplification means making louder, right? I mean, that's right. Think about it. So if I say something, I may ask my ally, this is one of those ways. Will you tell your story? Or will you agree? Or will you expand on what I'm saying, to show that it's more than just me thinking this way or proposing this? So we're amplifying each other's voice? And what I will tell you on this is that you can do this for other people as well. Right? So if you hear someone male or female who says something and you agree with it, another way to get your voice in the room is to say, you know, I just want to go on record as saying I really agree with what Wendi is offering here and here's the reason why. So that all all that not only firms, you know what I think and the other person, I then maybe get to embellish or add a few things that are uniquely my own perspective on it. So it's another sort of win win win situation, if you will.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:13  
Exactly. Okay. Now, this is the word that keeps, it's wandering through my head - "Mansplaining." What about all of that? And how do we manage that?

Marsha Clark  50:23  
Alright, so so if you haven't heard what the word is, let me just describe it. And this is from the Oxford languages dictionary, says "mansplaining is the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as con condescending or patronizing." You know, the visual image I have is like, they're patting me on the head and saying, Does that make sense little lady, right kind of thing really, just drives me crazy. So it's like, we couldn't understand hard things, or complex things or, you know, something that is, you know, typically been considered a man's world kind of thing. And so what I coach my clients to do, what I do myself in all of this, is I then choose to interrupt them when they when I feel like they're going down that path of Yeah, yeah, yeah. So what I would say is something like, John, I understand all of that, what I really need to know is, and then I asked my question again, or, you know, whatever that might be. And, and, and so just cut it off, don't let it go down that path. Because now I'm taking my power back, right, and cutting him off and saying, Here's what I'm really looking for. And so it's a way that we can get into that. But the mansplaining is I hear it up and down organizations across organizations everywhere.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  51:43  
Right? Do you think it's dwindling? Like the as as millennials move through the workforce and as we get older, do you think that do you think it will dwindle? I don't think it'll ever die. But do you think it dwindle?

Marsha Clark  51:57  
I hope so. Because I do think that the more women's voices get into the room and epicycles, the more common it becomes for women's voices to get in the room and at the table. So I hope it becomes more of a norm and less of an exception.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  52:11  
Right. Okay, so what about the other side of this coin, which is when I say something in the meeting and get no reaction, and then a man says the same thing three or five minutes later, and everyone jumps on it? Like it's like the most fantastic thing they ever heard so exhausting and exasperating.

Marsha Clark  52:33  
Yeah, one of my clients told me this. She said, "Yeah, in our company, we call those He-Peats." So and I love that I love the whole concept of that it just speaks volumes. So someone sent me a cartoon one time it had this, you know, man at the, the head of the table, he's standing up again, like you said, oval, you know, conference room, and all, men, one woman. And the cartoon was "Mrs. Trig, I appreciate what you say. Perhaps if one of the men said it, we could hear it." And you know it. That's exactly the experience. And so, there are a couple of things that I would say about this. If it really is, you know, something that you said almost identically, I would say something like, and I pick on the name, John, so for all you John's out there, I'm not trying to pick on you. It's just John Doe ish. Yes, approach. But you know, John, I appreciate that, you know that that's you building on what I said a moment ago. So now you're bringing attention to try to keep up. That's right, that that I too, said that where you may or may not have heard it. So that's one perspective where you're trying to get the grid to recognize that you, you too, are smart enough to have contributed this thinking. The second thing though, is and I think this is where our learning opportunity comes in. If the person says it differently, using different language or a different example or story or something, watching learn on those, because sometimes people can hear it in one way, but not hear it in another way. And so how did they speak about that? So this is the group that's in here. So they relate to more metaphors or analogies, or they relate more to quantitative metrics, or they relate more to, because in your mind, it's the same thing that how it lands on the ears of the people in the room might be a little different. So that's a watch and learn item. Now, I do want to say this. The research shows again, and again, many of us can think of examples a man and a woman can say exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment in a meeting, same tone and everything and it will be received differently by the other people in the room. So recognize that that's going to happen. And that's why we have to stay true to ourselves. And we don't want to, I'm not a big fan of rant about it, or, you know, pound the table about it, or accuse or blame or judge others, I'm just going to keep chipping away at it, keep chipping away at it, keep chipping away at it. Now, if I have a good relationship with some of the people in that room, I would have an after the meeting conversation and talk about let me tell you how it felt from where I was sitting. And you know, when you and I have talked about this book before, Cassandra, if women wrote history, the stories would be different. And this is one of those things, because we hear it differently, we experienced it differently, we feel it differently. And so we just need to recognize that that's part of this scenario at all. But don't lose heart and don't give up

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  55:50  
Right. So I want to just reinforce this, I'm going to kind of recap what you just said, because I think this is such a common thing. So option number one is saying something to the effect of "John, thank you for reinforcing my earlier points..."  And then adding additional points to what was said. But the second option is which I think is extremely mature, and the sign of a true leader, is to pay attention to how he said it because there may be a learning opportunity there. And that really forces you to step out of yourself and say, "Okay, what else could be true here" and learn something from the scenario. If John truly set restated what you said, so that to the for the benefit of the other people in the room.

Marsha Clark  56:37  
Yeah, no, you're right on. It's exactly those two things. So and it can go either way. And you you have to determine which is which.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  56:45  
Right, wow. Well, we've covered a lot of ground today with tons of concepts coaching tips, tools,. Why don't you recap for our listeners what you consider to be the key points or takeaways from the politics of meetings today...

Marsha Clark  57:03  
I'm happy to do that. So first is know how to set up and lead an effective meeting. So a phrase for that is have good meeting mechanics, the meeting runs like a well oiled machine. The second is get clear about who needs to attend or be in your meetings. And then on the flip side of that, which meetings are important for you to attend as well. So get clear about both sides of that. The third is be politically savvy. Know who your decision makers, allies, adversaries, and gatekeepers are and recognize that they change depending on the scenario or the situation. The fourth is truly know what it means to be inclusive in meetings, by inviting other people to share their thoughts and experience and knowledge and wisdom. And then give their input, true weight and consideration. And then last, know how to get your voice into the room. And don't be shy and step up, speak up and don't back down have the courage of your convictions, even when it takes you out of your comfort zone. Because the more you do it, the more comfortable that you're going to be. And if we can each build in these habits, run our meetings that way. We can be a model for what a well run meeting looks like. And maybe some of the dread that we all have about meetings can be diminished.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  58:24  
Well, this was an amazing session. This was so much action packed, I mean, action packed and informational packed episode.

So thank you, Marsha, so much for all of the this amazing information today. And thank you listeners for joining us on our journey on "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership With Marsha Clark." Please download and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Spotify, wherever you prefer to listen. And then also please visit Marsh's website at for links to all the tools or other resources we talked about today. And subscribe to her email list to stay in touch with Marsha and everything in her world. And you can also find out more about Marsha and her latest book "Embracing Your Power" on the site as well as other social media channels.

Marsha Clark  59:25  
Well, and let me just add Wendi, thank you for all of that and we do hope to hear from you. You know please feel free to connect with us via email if you've got questions or thoughts or need a little bit more information about something I'd love to hear from you. And we hope that you'll join us again next week because we're having we're having great fun talking about this and we really want to bring you some some values that helps you be the best leader that you can be. And as always, here's to women supporting women!

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