BUSINESS MEETINGS AND NEGOTIATIONS
“Meetings are a symptom of a bad organization. The fewer the meetings, the better.”
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
- Understand the preparations required for a meeting.
- Describe the key attributes of a successful meeting.
- Distinguish between the various types of meetings.
- Know the various terminologies used during meetings.
- Understand formal meeting procedures.
- Create an agenda for a meeting and take down the minutes.
- Deal with disruptions that might occur during a meeting.
- Understand what negotiation is, and negotiate successfully.
In today's business culture, information flow is critical and organizations can ill afford to waste time revisiting issues repeatedly. Good meetings can accelerate the collective decision-making process and improve execution. Poorly conducted meetings, on the other hand, increase costs and waste the valuable time of participants.
There is evidence to suggest that more meetings are now being held than ever before. In 1990, it was estimated that there were 25 million meetings worldwide on a single day. Five years later, this figure rose to 50 million.2 Most executives are in some sort of meeting for more than half their business day. The average number of meetings attended in a week is on a steady rise, and business professionals devote a chunk of their working hours to attending various kinds of meetings.
MEETINGS: A WASTE OF TIME?
Though meetings are a way of life in organizations of every size and kind, nobody seems very happy with them. Dull, ineffective, useless, and failing to live up to expectations are some of the epithets reserved for meetings. They are considered to be a waste of time, an interruption, and merely an opportunity for supervisors to deliver ineffective lectures to subordinates. People even end up wanting to take their work to meetings so that their time is not completely wasted.
A report in Public Relations Tactics reveals that a typical professional attends more than 60 meetings in a month.3 This study suggests that American businesses “face a situation of meeting mania” as 46 per cent of professionals are attending more meetings than they did last year. The study also predicts an increase in this figure within the next few years. Large corporations are having more meetings than their smaller counterparts. Even where meetings are not conducted face to face, video conferencing and, to a lesser extent, audio conferencing are used to organize meetings.
Research studies have raised serious concerns regarding meetings. One report says that although a little more than a quarter of attendees interviewed expressed strong dissatisfaction with the meeting process (especially the “ineffective speaking skills” of their team leaders), the team leaders expressed conviction in their meeting-heavy management styles and its ability to positively influence participants.4 This depicts the increasing perceptual divide between managers and team leaders regarding issues at the workplace including meetings.
Information Bytes 8.1
According to an MCI Conferencing White Paper, 91 per cent of professionals who attend meetings on a regular basis admit to daydreaming during the meetings. Ninety-six per cent miss entire meetings, while 95 per cent miss parts of it. Seventy-three per cent of the people surveyed admitted to bringing other work to meetings, and 39 per cent even dozed off during meetings. Further, professionals also lose 31 hours or roughly four working days a month attending unproductive meetings. In the United States, approximately 11 million meetings occur each day and most professionals attend an average of 61.8 meetings every month. Research also indicates that 50 per cent of the time spent in meetings is wasted.
Source: Meetings in America: A Study of Trends, Costs and Attitudes Toward Business Travel, Teleconferencing, and Their Impact on Productivity. A Network MCI Conferencing White Paper (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998), 10.
The cost of unproductive meetings is high. According to this report, most professionals attend an average of 61.8 meetings per month. Research from Nelson and Economy indicates that over 50 per cent of this meeting time is wasted.5 Assuming each of these meetings is an hour long, professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings, or approximately four work days!
In spite of criticism, face-to-face meetings are here to stay. In today's business scenario, where value-added services have become a core concern, the challenge for managers is finding ways to make meetings more productive.
MEETINGS: DEFINITION AND TYPES
A meeting is a gathering of people with a common cause and a common agenda. Meetings can be characterized as having “multi-party talk” that is “episodic in nature.” This “talk” is governed by a set of conventions. Essentially designated as a communicative event, meetings involve framing and coding of the agenda, deciding participation criterion and channel selection, and establishing the norms of speaking and interaction.6 Meetings, thus, include “serious meeting talk” interspersed with “chat.” As long as agenda integrity and temporal integrity are adhered to in a meeting, this is perfectly acceptable.7
Meetings are of many types—for instance, staff meetings, planning meetings, and problem-solving meetings. However, there are certain basic objectives that are common to all meetings:
- Sharing information
- Improving performance and productivity
- Dealing with any gaps in communication
- Addressing the concerns of employees
- Removing doubts
- Formulating policy
- Fixing targets
- Ensuring proper implementation of policies
Thus, meetings serve numerous valuable functions, including:
- Enhancing employees' confidence: A major soft drinks company has internalized the practice of regular meetings with employees. The CEO and president of Coca-Cola, Atul Singh, moved to India from China in 2005 with the intention of hauling Coca-Cola India out of the myriad controversies that were adversely affecting its business. In order to achieve this, the first thing he did was insist on holding regular meetings with his employees. These meetings were useful in updating employees on the challenges faced by Coca-Cola as well as the preventive measures taken by the company. According to Singh, employees are the building blocks of a confident and successful company.8
- Addressing staff gripe: Companies use frequent meetings to address employee disillusionment. Ombudspersons, skip level meetings, meals, and outdoor trips are organized to address deep-rooted employee grouses.9
- Obtaining customer feedback: A well-known information technology–enabled service firm regularly invites its key clients and customers to board meetings where they have the liberty to freely talk about the experience of doing business with the firm, even comparing the company to their other technology vendors.
Meetings are purpose-intensive activities. For example, in problem-solving meetings, productivity is measured by the process by which the problem is solved, the time taken to reach a consensus, idea generation, and so on; thus, deciding the purpose of the meeting beforehand assumes critical importance. If the flow of ideas is strictly one way and there is no need for immediate feedback, then a meeting need not be scheduled. If people are merely being advised or informed, the facilitator can send an e-mail or memo and resist from calling a costly meeting. In some cases, one-on-one dialogue may be sufficient, rather than a meeting involving a large number of people. However, if the purpose is serious deliberation over a troublesome issue or if an important decision is to be made (requiring greater collaboration and a feeling of cohesiveness), a meeting may indeed be necessary. However, even then, the purpose of the meeting should help in deciding the number of participants. If the purpose is intensive problem solving, then as few as five participants, selectively chosen, may be adequate. On the other hand, if the purpose is problem identification, then even ten people may be ideal. Thus, there is often no need to call a large number of people for every issue.
Skip Level Meetings
In skip level meetings, a particular individual or group is allowed to meet the senior management. In other words, it involves “skipping” one's own reporting manager and talking to those higher up. This is normally done to understand micro-level issues and resolve them at the earliest. In some cases, managers who are managing 10 to 12 people assign two to three project leads, who directly report to them, while the other members report to the team leads. Due to this hierarchical structure, team members may not find an opportunity to talk to their managers and share their views on the project, company, or management. To close this gap, managers schedule skip level meetings with their team members approximately once in every three months.
During downsizing, mergers, re-engineering, restructuring, and other organizational shifts, units, departments, and divisions are combined and changed in dramatic ways. A newly recruited manager in such a situation needs to quickly acquire a working knowledge of the organization. This can be done by engaging with employees working two to three levels lower down the ladder. By interacting with people far removed from their direct supervision, managers hope to understand the ground-level reality, which they may not be able to grasp by just interacting with senior-level staff.
Skip level meetings should involve the following steps:
- Step 1: Sending an invite to employee(s) one or two levels below, at least two days before the meeting. One should desist from calling an employee immediately.
- Step 2: Planning a meeting for about 30 minutes.
- Step 3: Explaining the purpose of the meeting and assuring the employees discussions will be kept confidential.
- Step 4: Listening well and not interrupting. One should not defend specific views and should refrain from taking anything personally.
- Step 5: Asking open-ended questions such as, “Could you elaborate on this?”, “Did you feel the same when working with…?” One can also ask questions related to the organization and the project. Biographical information can also be asked for.
- Step 6: Concluding by summarizing the meeting.
Stand-up Meetings or the Daily Scrum
The stand-up meeting is a daily team meeting held to provide status updates to other team members (and not to the management). It is usually conducted “standing up,” to remind the participants that the meeting has to be short and to the point. At some places, it is also called the daily scrum. All members of the team are expected to participate, though the meeting is not postponed if a few people do not turn up. In general, the following three-question rule is followed:
- What did the participant do yesterday?
- What will the participant do today?
- Are there any bottlenecks?
The purpose of scrum meetings (particularly when they are held online) is to seek clarification about the work, ensure that the team is working cohesively, present an update of the work in progress, and communicate any hitches in the process.
It is recommended that team members answer the three questions in a manner that solves team issues and problems, and contributes to effective project management, especially when the stand-up meeting or scrum meeting is held online.
Performance Appraisal Meetings
The performance appraisal meeting is a vital evaluating tool and is conducted by the supervisor. If it goes smoothly, this meeting ensures that employees are motivated and looking forward to working towards a common goal. If it's not done well, it might leave the participant confused or even angry. One should keep certain things in mind if one is to conduct a successful performance appraisal meeting. For instance, it is important to spend sufficient time on each point. It is no use hurrying to the next issue if the previous one hasn't been resolved to everyone's satisfaction. There should always be proper dialogue between the employee and the supervisor. Engaging in a monologue is not a good way to hold a successful appraisal meeting. The supervisor should also have a positive attitude. There is no point in being too negative. Before the meeting is over, the supervisor should confirm whatever facts other employees have provided about the participant. The focus of the meeting should always be the result and not the process through which the result is achieved. If the supervisor fails to satisfactorily explain the rationale behind the appraisal, the appraisal meeting isn't considered successful.
Annual General Meetings
Section 166(1) of the Indian Companies Act of 1956 says that “every company shall in each year hold in addition to any other meetings a general meeting as its annual general meeting.”10 According to Section 166(2), every annual general meeting (AGM) must be held either at the registered office of the company or within the city, town, or village in which the registered office is situated. An AGM cannot be held elsewhere. The law also dictates that there shouldn't be a gap of more than fifteen months between two AGMs.
The AGM is a formal meeting that is held once a year. It is a legal requirement and deals with issues relating to the approval of accounts and election of board members by a company's shareholders. Each organization usually has a section in its memorandum and articles of association regarding the way an AGM has to be conducted as well as the matters involved in it. There is also usually a section pertaining to where and when the AGM should be held. Organizations have to give advance notice of the AGM, and this notice has to be public. All members must be informed about the meeting at least 21 days prior to the event through ordinary and registered post. A copy of the agenda should accompany the invitation.
For example, consider the following norm proposed by Arcelor Mittal: “The annual general meeting of shareholders will be held at the Company's registered office or at any other place in the City of Luxembourg mentioned in the notice of the meeting on the second Tuesday of the month of May each year at eleven o'clock (11:00) am. If that day is a legal or banking holiday, the meeting will be held on the preceding banking day. An extraordinary general meeting of shareholders may be held as often as the Arcelor Mittal Board of Directors deems necessary.”11
The performance appraisal meeting is conducted by the supervisor. Done well, this vital session can leave the participants feeling newly motivated and eager to implement whatever agreements were reached.
The AGM is conducted by the chair of the organization. The minutes of the meeting must be recorded. A typical AGM has the following components:
- Opening remarks
- Apologies (if any)
- Minutes of the previous AGM
- Matters arising from the minutes of the previous AGM
- Presentation of the annual report by the chair or the secretary
- Adoption of the annual report
- Presentation of accounts, usually by the treasurer
- Adoption of accounts
- Appointment of auditors or an independent examiner
- Election of the management committee or office bearers
- Motions to be put to the AGM
- Discussion of any other competent business
- Closing remarks
KEY ATTRIBUTES OF A PRODUCTIVE MEETING
It is not easy to clearly estimate the value gained from a meeting. Scientific data on what happens in a corporate meeting room is rare, and too often one has to rely on data that is “soft” and based on impressions rather than any statistical evaluation tool. Despite their ubiquity, meetings have received relatively little scholarly attention. The meeting per se, as a social institution worthy of study in its own right, does not appear frequently in the scholarly literature.
For a meeting to be considered productive, participants must be free to air their opinions, so that multiple points of view can emerge. These conflicting and sometimes alternate viewpoints add to the depth of the meeting. Limited participation, a specific agenda, alternatives, control, and follow-up are other critical determinants of an effective meeting. The “tenor” of the meeting is dependent largely on the structure of the society or system. Egalitarian systems encourage greater participation in meetings than rigid hierarchical systems and consequently are more satisfying.
Successful meetings are the result of skilful management by the chair. The chair needs to be experienced and has to be firm, yet tactful. He or she should also ideally possess a sense of humour. Above all, the person must command the respect of all the participants in the meeting. The chair should resist giving speeches of undue length and must avoid repeating statements. Brief interjections should be allowed, but the chair should ask a persistent offender to leave the meeting. To be productive, meetings should start on time, encourage conflict, involve the “wallflowers,” focus on one issue at a time, and stick to a system of discipline.
Meetings must have high level of collaboration, should share information, and should work towards a common goal. They should focus more on decisions to be taken and not on presenting and reviewing data. An effective meeting is where participants come prepared, the agenda is well-planned and executed, and members are held accountable with appropriate follow-up. Excellent attendance, goal-oriented actions, the skills of the chair, and having a follow-up plan in place are essential characteristics of a productive meeting.
To be productive, meetings should be few and far between. They should also strictly adhere to the time limit, set rules for building trust among the participants, create empathy among the participants, and ensure that there is a sense of positive experience. The role of meetings in motivating salespeople is highly important and such meetings should be product- and knowledge-based, time-bound, and decision-oriented.
Effective meetings, thus, have a set of core attributes. The four elements that follow are critical to the success of a meeting. Attributes such as adherence to time and making sure that the goal is met can be seen as components that fit into these broad categories:
- A well-planned agenda that matches method to purpose and lays out who needs to discuss what. This implies that significant thought needs to be put into the meeting process.
- A high level of collaboration and sharing of information. Leaders need to encourage employees to bring issues and critical concerns to the fore. In other words, a meeting should always welcome conflicting opinions.
- Team leader in the role of a facilitator.
- A well-defined follow-up plan.
A TENTATIVE MODEL OF THE PROCESS OF MEETING
Exhibit 8.1 presents the process of a meeting as an input–output system. The input is purpose- specific, as meetings are essentially purpose-dependent. It includes thoughts, ideas, issues, and concerns expressed vocally. However, the output of the meeting, as opposed to the input, must be concrete. This includes decisions, specific motivations, resolutions, and discussions that lead to action. The outcome is driven by various factors such as timeliness, discipline, agenda, and the competence of the team leader. The outcome of a meeting can be perceived to be productive or unproductive. It can be perceived as unproductive if it is too long, too boring, does not involve everybody, or has too many or too few attendees. An unclear agenda and poor facilitation are other factors that might lead to an unproductive meeting.
Exhibit 8.1 A Meeting as an Input–Output System (A Fish Bone Diagram Depicting Meeting Productivity)
The characteristics of productive meetings can be further segregated into measurable and non-measurable attributes.
- Measurable attributes: The measurable attributes of a meeting are features such as the agenda, the duration of the meeting, attendance, the follow-up plan, and the number of breaks taken. These attributes are, by and large, objective, tangible, and easily counted, implemented, and replicated.
- Non-measurable attributes: On the other hand, non-measurable factors such as the quality of participation, the leader's communication style, the creation of trust and empathy among participants, the motivation of employees, and the involvement of the “wallflowers” who rarely speak are subjective and intangible. Interpretations of these differ from one individual to another, and it is difficult to standardize and measure these.
These characteristics do not carry the same weight in all meetings. For example, if a meeting is called to solve a current crisis in the company, the measurable attribute of timeliness would hardly be considered a benchmark to assess its productivity. Here, the more important issues would be non-measurable attributes like raising the morale of the participants and motivating the employees. However, it should be noted that for routine matters, timeliness is an important indicator of meeting productivity.
Thus, where the purpose is merely to inform, timeliness, agenda setting, and follow-up plans are important indicators of the productivity of a meeting. Where meetings are held to motivate the participants, collaboration assumes a priority. In meetings where important decisions need to be taken, timeliness would still be a criterion, but the productivity of the meeting would be judged by the manner in which the manager encourages ideas and, more importantly, reduces dissent. After a few pleasantries in the meeting room, it is necessary to “get down to business.” Western meetings generally run on a tight schedule with an organized, pre-planned agenda. Meetings are for business. On the other hand, other cultures may see a meeting as the arena for building personal relationships and strengthening bonds. Getting down to business comes further down the priority list in such cultures.
Most critics suggest that, generally, the non-measurable attributes contribute to participants' feelings regarding whether a meeting is productive or non-productive.
Meetings are not just for sharing information but also for making judgments about each other. Meetings do not always have to be boring; they can also be considered opportunities to impress one's supervisor and colleagues.
In business meetings, poor etiquette can prove costly. Comfort, trust, attentiveness, and clear communication are examples of good etiquette. Meetings are generally of two kinds: formal meetings and informal meetings. Informal meetings are characterized by bonhomie, friendliness, and a relaxed outlook. Even though these may not take place in the confines of closed doors, a boardroom, or a meeting chamber, the rules of meeting etiquette still apply to such meetings.
In general, both men and women are expected to step from behind their desk to shake hands and offer a seat to their visitors. Maintaining appropriate eye contact, respecting personal space, and escorting visitors to the lobby/elevator at the end of the meeting are gestures expected from all professionals. In corporate entertainment, payment is made by the party who issued the invitation.
The meeting chair must notify everyone about the meeting, make sure that no one is inconvenienced, and check that the agenda is circulated to everybody. The chair must make the purpose of the meeting clear to attendees. He or she should also inform people of how long the meeting will last and if any particular information or preparation is expected of them. Failing to relay the proper information is poor business etiquette as it could cause embarrassment.
The chair must observe punctuality, as it is not good manners to keep people waiting. It is proper etiquette to respect other people's valuable time, to keep the meeting as short as possible, and to stick to the agenda. The chair also must also depute somebody to note the minutes and circulate these after the meeting. The chair has to be decisive, and ensure that aggressors and pressure groups do not hijack the proceedings. It is also the responsibility of the chair to make sure that everybody contributes to the meeting. Humour and tact are essential to keeping tempers under control.
Departmental meetings, interdepartmental meetings, board meetings, management meetings, and sales meetings are some examples of formal meetings. Etiquette demands that the chair and the participants are well prepared for such meetings. It is the duty of the chair to inform attendees about any preparation required for the meeting at least three days prior to the meeting. Good etiquette also demands that mobile phones are switched off during the meetings.
The chair must be seated when the meeting is scheduled to start, and should welcome the attendees and reiterate the agenda. When discussions are under way, it is good etiquette to allow the senior person to contribute first. The chair must disallow interruptions.
Attendees must ensure that they maintain full decorum during meetings. If they disagree strongly with a viewpoint, then they should jot it down and broach the subject matter with the permission of the chair. It is a serious breach of etiquette to divulge what transpires during a meeting, since information leaks in highly confidential meetings are commonplace. Companies are now using mobile phone jammers, especially in top-secret board meetings, to maintain confidentiality. Even the sales force and service teams may have their phones tracked to preserve and enforce confidentiality.
Communication Bytes 8.1
The following is a sample code of conduct for client meetings:
We recognize that client meetings are important to entertain business and professional contacts. We also understand that meetings foster team interaction. It is the policy of the company to keep entertainment expenses at a reasonable level and assume that meetings will be cost effective on all occasions. Expenses incurred for meetings will be budgeted by each department annually. The approving authority for such expenses will be the concerned functional head.
Expenses for business meetings with professional/business contacts are classified under “Business Meeting.” Discussions with business or professional contacts are normally held at the office premises, and expenses incurred towards the cost of food and beverages will be reimbursed. Discussions with business or professional contacts, either by way of courtesy or as a necessity, may be held over lunch or dinner at a restaurant. Expenses incurred towards the same will be reimbursed.
Information Bytes 8.2
A meeting held in the traditional Japanese style generally follows certain strict guidelines. Casual attire is not allowed, and where one sits is determined by one's position in the hierarchy of the organization. People who are higher up sit near the head of the table, closer to the chair. One cannot sit or eat until the chair does so. Taking notes during a meeting is a gesture of respect. Unlike certain American organizations, which frown upon exchanging gifts, a traditionally Japanese meeting is highly welcoming of gifts. However, it is bad manners to open the gift in front of the person who gives it.
Source: Adapted from <http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e622.html>, accessed on June 15, 2011.
DO'S AND DON'TS IN A MEETING
The following is a list of do's and don'ts in a meeting.
- Be prepared for the meeting.
- Keep your briefcase near you on the floor.
- Come on time.
- If that is not possible, please ensure that there is a valid reason for being late.
- Respond to queries.
- Be serious and listen carefully.
- Take notes.
- Fiddle with pens, pencils, paper clips, and so on.
- Doodle on a notepad.
- Chew gum.
- Ask for coffee/tea unless these are specifically offered to you.
- Make a grab for the refreshments.
- Slouch in your seat.
- Sit too close to the chair. That position might be reserved for the meeting secretary.
- Cross the arms. This posture communicates resistance.
- Come late.
- Speak too loudly or too softly.
- Walk out for a break before the meeting is over.
- Blurt out thoughts. It is prudent to frame them coherently before speaking.
- Repeat whatever has been said earlier.
- Use negative language.
- Begin with an apology.
- Use confrontational phrases like “I disagree” or “I oppose this.”
- Use “I”. Use “we” instead.
- Use a weak voice. Always be assertive and confident.
HANDLING DISRUPTIONS IN MEETINGS
Conflicts and disruptions invariably arise in meetings. Proposals may be rejected and presentations may be objected to. There may be a clash of personalities. Sometimes, such conflicts are good. Groupthink, especially in meetings, should be discouraged so that better solutions can be forthcoming. However, at times the situation might threaten to get out of control. Here is a list that classifies potential disruptors.
The Side Talkers
The side talkers are people who constantly engage in conversation with their neighbours. They smile, giggle, scribble, share a joke or two, and recount stories to each other throughout the meeting. In order to handle them successfully, the Chair should try and complete their speech and then pause and wait for the disruptors to stop talking. This method ensures that the offenders get the message without actually saying anything.
The ramblers are people who never get to the point. They keep repeating and rephrasing what they have to say. In order to deal with them, it is important to acknowledge their point and follow it with a close-ended question like “Did you mean this or that?” After that, it is time to move on to the next point.
Aggressive people in a meeting are difficult to handle. They speak loudly, overpower others, and generally display rude behaviour. They can be sarcastic, undermine the chair's authority, and in general create trouble. It is important to ignore these people during the meeting and ask others about their opinion. It is also a good idea to defer the matter and invite them to one's office after the meeting. They can also be asked to leave under certain circumstances.
Aggressive people in a meeting are difficult to handle. They speak loudly, overpower others, and generally display rude behavior.
The opponents are people who usually sit at the back of the room with their arms folded, listening to every spoken word. Usually they are the last to speak, and they appear to challenge the authority of the speaker with bold, authoritative statements. It is important to remember that a challenger is not hostile. Their alternative agenda is just to increase their credibility in the eyes of others. In order to handle such people, it might be a good idea to invite them for separate discussions so that they sense that they are being given due importance. If possible, it is better to identify the opponents before a meeting and take proper steps to neutralize their opposition.
The wallflowers are people who do not speak up in meetings at all. Some of them are just not interested, while others might not have the confidence to speak up. In such a situation, it is important to involve them in the discussion by asking their views on an issue.
THE AGENDA AND MINUTES OF A MEETING
Meetings are considered time wasters when they are ill-planned and conducted in a disorganized manner. The absence of a clear agenda and poor planning may mar the productivity of meetings. The agenda is important as it gives a sense of direction to the meeting. It imparts a professional feel to most informal meetings as well. It is goal-oriented and enables the chair to keep the meeting on track.
The agenda comprises the following information:
- Who has called the meeting?
- When, where, and why has this meeting been called?
- What are the main points to be discussed (sometimes, the time to be spent on each item is also specified).
The MOM, as the minutes of meeting are popularly called, is a record of the decisions taken during the meeting. It serves as a reference for important decisions and is used for legal purposes too. Some guidelines associated with MOM are:
- A responsible person should be deputed to write the MOM.
- The MOM should be written in the third person (for instance, “it was noted…” and “the chair observed…”).
- Personal comments or feelings should not be included in the MOM. For example, one should avoid statements like: “Raghav disliked the idea and began to protest.”
- Only the decisions should be recorded against the agenda item. The process by which the decision was arrived at is not to be noted down. For instance, one should note “Regarding the appraisal policy, it was decided that appraisals should be conducted once a month….” Statements such as “Deliberations on appraisals took nearly 70 minutes. Three people opposed the motion and four favoured it. Raghav was totally against it as he felt that it would add to the already burgeoning paperwork” should be avoided.
- Sentences should be short. However, telegraphic phrases are not welcome. Headings should be inserted to indicate important decisions. It should be easy for people to read the minutes and note what they need to do for later reference.
A good MOM should have the following components (refer to Exhibit 8.2 for an outline of a good MOM):
CHALLENGES BEFORE MANAGERS
The fact that good communication can save both cost and time is now being felt more than ever before. Globalization, with its emphasis on clarity and speed of communication, has made it imperative that managers accord due respect to internal “routine” processes such as meetings. No longer deemed commonplace, they serve as forums where differences are bridged and relationships are cemented. Time-bound and result-driven meetings require a change in the mindset of managers, especially those who lead teams.
The challenge before team leaders is to find answers “within.” With a shortage of time and increasing spatial distances between participants, managers cannot afford to waste time on unproductive meetings. They appreciate a decisive and firm chairperson who can simultaneously invite conflict and restore balance.
Thus, an effective meeting is a result of a set of causal factors (refer to Exhibit 8.1). Appropriate handling of each of these factors results in suitable contributions to the end result. Planning the purpose, process, and participants is the key to organizing successful meetings. This may require revisiting the older styles of meeting and questioning them. It is not necessary that what worked in one context would continue to be effective in another.
Managers should also seek feedback on their meeting style. This is extremely important. First, it will transform their approach towards meetings in case they feel that their meetings are unproductive. Second, it will reduce the gap between “what is” and “what ought to be.” The team leaders can then take mental notes on how to organize and evaluate meetings. These are essentially mind maps that help in deciding the purpose of a meeting (whether a meeting needs to be called or not), the format of the meeting (will the existing format, say morning meetings, add value in this context or is a change required?), attendees, the time required, the number of decisions to be taken, and the communication style to be adopted by the manager.
Exhibit 8.2 Outline of a Good MOM
Once these frames are organized, an analysis of the cost incurred for the meeting can help in bringing greater insights and can also act as triggers for examining questions such as:
- Can one decrease the length of the meeting?
- Can there be fewer or more participants?
- Can one add or cut overhead costs?
- Can the frequency of the meeting be increased or decreased?
Quantifying the benefits of meetings remains fuzzy as of now. While productivity can serve as a surrogate measure of value, a more refined measure would perhaps be the need of the hour for which benefits and costs are to be estimated somewhat precisely. As of now, there do not seem to be many guidelines for this. Research still remains weak in terms of presenting a robust indicator that calculates the gains precisely. However, the time has come to use meetings more judiciously and responsibly, taking care that they are called only when absolutely necessary, and are conducted in an effective manner.
A negotiation is a discussion between two or more people to work out a solution to a common problem. Negotiation may be interpersonal (between two people) or intergroup (between two groups). It might also be at a corporate, national, or international level. Negotiation is, thus, an activity that is designed to resolve a conflict.
The process of negotiation has the following characteristics:
- There is a conflict of interest.
- There is some form of interdependence, that is, a realization that one party needs the other to resolve the conflict or dispute.
- The type of interdependence determines the outcome as well as the nature of negotiation.
- A negotiation is a formal affair, and the main objective for both parties is always to get a better deal.
- Successful negotiation requires special communication tactics as the entire purpose of negotiation is to get more benefits than would be possible without a negotiation.
- During the process of negotiation, the aim is to mutually agree on something, rather than being openly aggressive or passively submissive.
- Each negotiation has a task aspect and a relationship aspect.
- A negotiation can be an intricate and lengthy process, and one needs to be patient to complete it successfully.
- Negotiation is usually culture bound, especially in the use of non-verbal language. The following examples might be considered:
- German negotiators place a high premium on timeliness and associate punctuality with professionalism, efficiency, and productivity. This may be interpreted as impatience in some cultures.
- American negotiators value distance and associate it with professionalism and formality. However, this may be considered too rigid and formal in other cultures.
- French negotiators are slightly more animated than most and associate animation with passion and self belief. This might be interpreted as uncontrolled and reactive by other cultures.
- Indian negotiators do not prefer to use direct eye contact, especially with someone senior in the hierarchy. This may be interpreted as shifty and dishonest in some cultures.
- Negotiators from Middle Eastern countries may wear a flowing robe instead of a business suit, and this might be perceived as disrespectful and informal by some cultures.
- Italian negotiators may speak loudly while negotiating, and this might appear to be too boisterous to people from other cultures.
Negotiation skills are considered extremely valuable in today's world. The following reasons might give us an idea why:
- Organizations nowadays are matrix-based as well as flatter than before. People work in teams and constantly interact with each other. Conflicts have to be nipped in the bud.
- Organizations are becoming more diverse. Different cultures yield different perspectives, management styles, and approaches. This could potentially lead to conflicts that demands negotiation skills.
- Organizations are changing. There is a need to negotiate with those who resist change.
An effective negotiator is basically an extremely effective communicator. An effective negotiator:
- Has a thorough understanding of the psychology of his or her “opponents.” The effective negotiator is a good judge of people and can understand how people shift their interests, positions, and focus.
- Is a good listener. Effective negotiators rarely interrupt their opponent, until they understand exactly what the other party is seeking from the discussion. They listen not only for facts, but also for feelings.
- Exchanges information, but cautiously. Effective negotiators do not disclose information prematurely; rather they wait for the correct moment to strike a bargain.
- Uses assertive language. The effective negotiator rarely uses words that are weak or passive.
- Uses minimal body language and gestures. Effective negotiators understand that about 93 per cent of one's impact comes from body language and voice and, therefore, attempt to downplay their body language. This minimizes disclosures about one's position and available concessions. At times, body language is an instant giveaway and thus expert negotiators are rather impassive in their demeanour.
- Can predict behaviour. The effective negotiator can, with reasonable accuracy, predict the stance or the position of opponents by reading their facial expressions, body gestures, and voice intonation.
- Focuses on the company's needs rather than individual concerns.
- Is open about other options and flexible in his or her approach.
- Prepares well in advance.
- Clearly communicates expectations and comments on unfair tactics or unethical practices if any.
- Eliminates distractions by closing the door and turning off phones in order to tune in to the person sitting opposite him or her.
- Responds to the other party with stimulating questions.
- Looks for differences once the similarities are known.
- Take notes on the important points the other party makes.
Planning for the Negotiation
Business negotiations do not take place in an unplanned manner. Essential planning is required so that there is mutual agreement and satisfaction from the process. This requires some preparation.
Framing the Issue
Framing, as discussed in an earlier chapter, is an essential art for a business communicator. It is the first step in the process of negotiation and involves answering the following questions: What is the purpose of the negotiation? What outcomes do we seek? What roadblocks do we anticipate? How much is to be conceded? Who is the opponent? What are their needs and wants? What motivates them? What is their reputation? What is the nature of our relationship with the opponent? Are we looking to change the relationship? What would constitute a fair deal? The best deal? What line of arguments, facts, and evidence needs to be assembled to get the better deal? How much flexibility should be accommodated to get what we desire? What alternatives de we have?
Framing is thus an assessment of the perceptions that each party has of the other, on the basis of which one's own position may be identified. It involves an investigation of the opponent's past behaviour in similar settings and determining the manner in which this may predict future behaviour.
Frames can be attempted in two ways: behind the scenes (where individual parties frame their position) or shared framing (where both parties meet to discuss conceptions). The ideal approach is to seek a position where frames of both the parties “match.” When frames match, it implies that both the parties have a similar outlook on an issue and only their approach is different.
Setting the Norms of Negotiation
Once the frame is mutually decided, the second step is listing the common issues that are at stake. At this stage, assistance from an outside consultant or an expert may also be taken. A comprehensive list of issues is drawn up and exchanged in this pre-negotiation phase. This allows agreement on agenda, location, duration, names of parties involved in the negotiation process, procedures, the order of issues to be addressed, and the actions to be taken if the negotiation fails. This is crucial for the success of a negotiation activity.
Power Bases in Influencing a Negotiation Process
Power bases are the inherent “influencers” that help people gain compliance from others. They help in deciding the “position” of the negotiator. At times, two or more power bases may be used to get the desired result.
They include the following:
- Authority: This influencing power is embedded in positional authority. People who influence through formal power vested in them almost coerce others into action. In negotiations, it may work when the interdependency is skewed towards the people in authority; it may not work when both the parties are equally dependent on each other.
- Expert power: This influencing power is derived from one's expertise and credibility. It may be used when one party uses expertise as a basis for action.
- Connection power: This influencing power is used to show the other party one's connections and influence with them. A show of strength, it is used to argue one's superior networking ability.
- Empathy: This influencing power emanates from understanding and concern and is used to demonstrate a superior understanding of people and situations.
- Information power: This influencing power comes from selective access to information that is privy to a privileged few.
Presentation of Facts and Evidence
The effectiveness of communication depends upon two factors:
- What ideas, facts, evidence, and data are selected (content and structure of the message), and
- How these are presented to the opponent (the delivery style).
Thus, an offer has to be appealing to the other party, and benefits must be highlighted to get the other party to agree. Often, negotiators begin by stating their viewpoint, putting the other party off even before the negotiations have begun. This may not be a wise move in most situations. Effective negotiators try to obtain agreements on minor points so that the major point can be accepted without much resistance.
The ideas and proposals that are suggested must be consistent with the values of the opponent. See Exhibit 8.3 for an example. The text in bold is consistent with the values of the management, and thus might influence the management in a positive manner.
Barriers to the Negotiation Process
One barrier to negotiation is the failure to recognize the opportunity of negotiation: some people accept any offer that comes their way. This can be due to the following reasons:
- They may not be aware that the scope for negotiation exists. They fail to negotiate simply because they do not realize that bargaining can lead to a better offer.
- Some people are shy and hesitant by nature and do not take risks with communication (perhaps due to fear of loss of face or embarrassment). They do not want to be perceived as confrontational.
- Some people are in deep conflict with the other party and do not negotiate deliberately. There is an inherent power struggle for supremacy borne by a deep-rooted dislike for each other.
- Negotiation is not a linear process. Many times, the process is driven by hidden agendas. Also, the negotiators are not always willing to negotiate and are unclear about what they want. Thus faulty assumptions may be a barrier to negotiation.
Approaches to Negotiation and the Role of Communication
There are two broad approaches to negotiation: the competitive approach and the collaborative approach. The former seeks a win–lose position, while the latter seeks a win–win solution. The nature of the conflict and the goals of the parties decide the approach to be adopted. Usually in negotiation, the goals are interdependent and the parties can decide to compete or collaborate.
- If both sides collaborate, they can have good outcomes that leave both the parties satisfied.
- If one side competes and the other collaborates, the collaborator will have a tough time and the competitor will get good outcomes.
- If both sides compete then the outcome will be mediocre.
- If there is uncertainty on both sides, the best strategy is to compete.
Communication plays a major role in resolution of deep-rooted conflicts. Prejudice, anger, and hostility create a chasm of distrust and suspicion. Often, third-party intervention is necessary to resolve the conflict. A mediator who is trusted by both the adversaries can help bridge the divide. The available alternatives and the best alternative are listed to bring the parties to a common understanding. Each party must believe that the other party is willing to compromise and that it is not a one-sided initiative. There is a hidden fear in the parties that they may disclose more than they intended and thus expose their vulnerability.
Exhibit 8.3 Example of an Agreement Put Forth by the Management
Issue: Increase in Enhanced Remuneration to Temporary Staff in ITES
Management position: Neutral to positive
Management belief: Money should not be wasted on the wrong resource
Argument put forth by the interested party (proposer): “Currently, we have close to 80 per cent of our resources as temporary workers. They have been carefully selected from the best talent pool after a rigorous screening process. They have been with us for four years now. The competitor is offering a higher wage rate and the cost of switching will be rather high. Since these are our valued resources, this amount will be an investment rather than a cost.
The words, signs, and symbols we use influence the direction of the negotiation process.
Consider this illustrative example: “The HR function followed by the Company is inefficient and costly whereas the alternative of outsourcing is viable enough to merit a debate.”
This statement by a proposer appears complex and impersonal. It does not involve the audience. It merely tells them facts.
It sounds better to say: “We are in the process of a major revamp that focuses on simplicity and cost effectiveness. This is how the two systems of self managed and outsourcing compare. Please look carefully at the cost efficiency that we achieve in the outsourcing alternative. Which do you feel is the better option?”
This is a simple and a personalized message.
A few illustrative examples that show the pitfalls of poor negotiation semantics follow.
Illustrative Example 1: Negotiating a Price
Kirti was interested in buying an office stationary set for herself. She was not convinced about the price that the shopkeeper quoted and found it to be on the higher side. Kirti wanted to reduce the price of the set but could not express this in so many words. The exchange went something like this:
Kirti: Umm…isn't this rather expensive?
Shopkeeper: How much would you like to pay?
Kirti: I don't know, I am asking you…
Shopkeeper: Have you seen anything like this before?
Kirti: Um…yes, I get to see these every day.
Shopkeeper: This is the price I am offering.
Kirti: Er…what is the best price you would quote…?
Shopkeeper: What's your price?
Kirti: Well…I don't know…really…this is like cheating the customers.
This went on for some time. Finally, irritated with Kirti's complaining, the shopkeeper refused to sell the stationary set.
What was Kirti's mistake? She did not speak in a convincing manner. Had she stated that her price was INR 100 less than what the shopkeeper had quoted, the stationary set could have been hers. The negotiation was not a fruitful one as no one gained anything from the exchange.
Illustrative Example 2: Negotiating a Salary
Consider the following exchange:
Recruiter: Well Rachel, your total emoluments amount to about INR 80,000 per month.
Rachel: Well, I expected something more…
Recruiter: But we have already accommodated your work experience and the certificate courses that you have completed in determining your compensation.
Rachel: Well you see, in a city like New York, the cost of living is so high…you must be more knowledgeable about it than I am…
Recruiter: Then trust us.
Rachel: I know that L.M. Brothers has a reputation for low starting packages, but I still feel that. I hope you do understand…
This went on for some time. Finally, irritated with Rachel's indecisiveness, the recruiter asked her to wait and that they would get back to her…and they never did.
What was Rachel's mistake? Rachel failed to express her salary expectations clearly in front of the recruiter. If your salary should be more than that quoted, mention it firmly but politely. Do not appear indecisive as this example illustrates. Give sound arguments to prove your claim. This could mean the following:
- How much more do you feel you should get?
- What is the basis of your argument? (Experience? Certification? Location? Cost-of-living indices?)
- State how you will justify the increase once you join the organization.
- Learn to be tactful. Do not state generalizations (such as “L.M. Brothers are known to give lower starting salaries.”).
It can be said that negotiation is 90 per cent communication and 10 per cent strategy. Skilled negotiators are aware of this and plan their communication accordingly.
- In most surveys on meeting effectiveness, meetings per se are considered important by participants. This is significant because it means that meetings are valued as an important communicative event in the organization.
- Meeting inertia is common, as attendees often weigh a meeting from the standpoint of opportunity costs. The team leader should be aware of this and plan accordingly.
- The real issues pertain to the manner in which meetings are conducted. These relate to poor planning, poor leadership, lack of clarity of purpose, and the actual conduct of the meeting.
- For any meeting to be considered productive, the thought that goes into the planning and execution of the meeting is of utmost importance. The onus of making meetings productive lies with the team leader. Maintaining basic discipline and laying out the ground rules can earn the leader suitable respect.
- A realization that meetings are not forums for social gatherings would go a long way in reinforcing the commitment of the participants.
- Timely circulation of the agenda and previous minutes convey non-verbal messages of timeliness and efficiency.
- Using appropriate communication cues, the leader can steer a meeting through troubled waters. At the same time, he or she must not be curt and authoritarian. It is a leader's responsibility to generate critiques and comments to not only improve participation but also stimulate dissent. In fact, this is where the real commitment comes from. A team leader's willingness to listen to ideas contradicting his or her own earns the rightful (if at times grudging) respect of the attendees.
- Managers and leaders must take personal feedback, construct mental frames, and conduct meeting cost analyses to fine-tune their meeting styles and get the best results from people.
- A negotiation is a discussion between two or more people in order to work out the solution to a problem.
- Business negotiations need essential planning so that there is mutual agreement and satisfaction.
- The effectiveness of communication depends on what facts/ideas are being presented and how they are being presented.
ASSESS YOUR KNOWLEDGE
- What are the different types of meetings in organizations?
- What key characteristics distinguish the different types of meetings?
- List and explain the different criteria for meeting effectiveness. Are these different for different types of meetings?
- Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products, holds an average of 70 meetings a week according to news reports. The meetings serve as a last stop before ideas can be placed before Google's co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Marissa is particular about having a note-taker at the meeting, an agenda circulated well in advance, time management, and data. One of her “tenets of innovation” is “don't politic, use data.” A stickler for micro meetings, Marissa's meetings are fairly visual and illustrative.12
This example from Google illustrates that frequent meetings can be productive. What are the comparative merits and demerits of frequent meetings? Support your answer with examples.
- Successful meetings are the result of skilful management by the chair. Discuss.
- What are the roles participants need to play in a meeting?
- Describe the causes of meeting disruption. How can a leader work to minimize these?
- Of late, meetings have become less popular. What reasons may be attributed to this?
- Write short notes on:
- Minutes of meetings
- Involving the wallflowers
- Meeting agendas
- Skip level meetings
- Mental frames
USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
- Hari is proposing a reduction in travelling expenses and the entertainment budget for client meetings. To assess the reaction of the 23 sales representatives and ask for their suggestions on how to reduce expenses, he decides to call a meeting. This would be on a Monday, when all the sales professionals touch base at the company headquarters. Additionally, Hari wanted to bring up a few issues relating to discipline and filing of weekly sales reports. Also, there is a conference scheduled for sales professionals in Singapore, for which he wanted to invite two nominations. Based on this information, answer the following:
- Frame an agenda for the meeting.
- How would the manager prepare a mental frame to deal with opposition to the proposal?
- Imagine that the meeting described in the previous question is over. Based on the following summary of the meeting, frame the minutes of the meeting.
Overall, the meeting went off peacefully except for the cost-cutting initiative. As predicted by Hari, members opposed it and suggested that optimization of area and travel plans might be attempted instead. Someone promised to bring a cost analysis of the same and compare it with the one proposed by Hari. The sales professionals requested Hari to send them a reminder about the daily call report and weekly assessments. They even requested him to set a day aside for this. Two members were nominated for the conference. Both were senior members and top grossers in terms of revenue. This was, as Hari explained, an award for their hard work and result-oriented performance.
- What are the cultural nuances in business meetings? Read the example that follows and explain how you would interpret the meeting styles in Switzerland.
In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, business meetings are kept as short as possible. The senior manager (Chef) generally speaks first and leads the meeting. Lower ranking colleagues usually speak only when spoken to and are always addressed indirectly during the first meet. In contrast, people from the French- and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland have the custom of prolonged business meetings over lunch, where conversations often touch on cultural tastes, cuisine, travel, the European Community, and so on.13
- In the context of a business meeting, conduct the following role-play for a performance appraisal meeting. Conduct a not-so-ideal meeting and an ideal meeting. The instructor can then examine the different approaches to communicating during the meetings.
Rajath Srinivasan is the vice president of Technology Solutions. With a B. Tech degree from a regional engineering college, he has diligently worked his way up the corporate ladder. He has a performance appraisal meeting coming up with a newly inducted management trainee, Harsh. It has been a year since Rajath has met with Harsh. He had not been too keen on hiring Harsh, as he liked the other candidate better. He felt that the other candidate had more of a spark. According to Rajath, Harsh was “all brains and not too much of anything else.” After quickly scanning his resume, Rajath had noticed that he was from IIT Kharagpur and had worked for five years with a project firm, followed by an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Rajath always thought that people with brand names in their resume had it easy.
Rajath conceded that Harsh did contribute to the progress of the project and had demonstrated sufficient amount of team work. Harsh's reports were lucid and to the point. Rajath faintly recalled that he had encouraged him to speak up more assertively in meetings. Rajath had positive reviews about Harsh from everybody. However, he still wished to see more leadership in him.
Today is Harsh's performance appraisal meeting with a supervisor that he could not bring himself to like. Harsh was rather confident about the interview, given his impeccable credentials and performance. However, he did regret that he had not made an effort to get to know Rajath better. How he wished that he had not let his personal prejudices influence his communication with Rajath!
As soon as Harsh had joined the company as a management trainee, he was told that Rajath had voted heavily against recruiting him. This led to a bit of a distance between them. Harsh had never even spoken up in Rajath's presence, and now this man was going to decide his fate in the organization!
- Refer to the following Web site to view a live meeting: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9MYNKVg0W8>
Now answer the following questions:
- Compare face-to-face meetings with computer-mediated ones.
- Compose a memo addressed to team members saying that the team would henceforth be using Microsoft Live Meeting for all meetings, unless specified otherwise. Explain how to do so.
- Refer to the following Web site:
Read the article “Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter” by Professor Richard D. Arvey. Comment on potential differences in how face-to-face business meetings might be viewed and conducted in five different cultures.
- Refer to the following Web site:
How can a manager determine if a meeting is really necessary?
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