The emotional intelligence of meetings

For many people meetings are the ultimate time-waster; they drain our time and suck the life out of our productivity. However, Nick Hobson, Ph.D., Leandra McIntosh, and Maryam Marashi argue that a dose of emotional intelligence can improve practice meetings. Here’s how

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared in Psychology Today.

Personal gripes aside, research has shown that meetings have increased in both length and frequency over the past 50 years. In the ’60s and ’70s, leaders spent roughly 10 hours a week in meetings; now it’s upwards of 25. Meetings for meeting’s sake happen all too often and it’s begun to negatively impact individual productivity and organisational performance.

Busy workers can’t afford to waste time in meetings. The smart ones know this, so they schedule their days and weeks wisely. They build systems using intelligent emotional design. That is, they plan, schedule, and run meetings knowing how human emotions work. They meet with emotional intelligence.

Here are the two best habits people high in emotional intelligence use when optimising for meetings in their day.

They set the meeting location wisely

The first thing to realise is that the conversation during meetings happens long before you actually meet and begin talking. Most people don’t know this. Doing so requires a bit of foresight and planning, but the effort pays off down the road in terms of getting the most out of the meetings.

People high in emotional intelligence choose the location of these meetings wisely. They have in mind a few key spots they can suggest for an in-person gathering.

Choosing a more stimulating environment works wonders. Here are just three easy examples:

  1. A unique and trendy coffee shop near your practice.
  2. A room with an outside view of some greenery; better yet, a ‘green’ room with lots of natural sunlight and plants (side note: green rooms boost cognitive performance).
  3. A ‘walking’ meeting in which you can get these benefits on top of the added bonus of stimulating creative thinking and fostering a sense of trust and co-operation through effective nonverbal communication.

High emotional intelligence says that an exciting environment makes everything else seem more exciting to another person, including the other people in the meeting. It’s the result of what psychologists call the ‘misattribution of emotions’ — humans are pretty bad at pinpointing the exact source of what’s affecting their mood, whether good or bad.

High emotional intelligence says that an exciting environment makes everything else seem more exciting to another person.

In other words, having a meeting in an interesting place will lead those present to feel greater excitement and be in a more positive mood. Due to mental misattribution, attendees might not be able to identify the exact cause of that pleasant feeling state. But the brain needs answers, so it takes a shortcut — called heuristics — and says the positive feelings must be the result of what’s immediately in front of them: the person and her words.

Having a meeting in an interesting place will lead those present to feel greater excitement and be in a more positive mood

They start the meeting by priming it with positivity

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Meetings require a bit of a ramp-up before jumping in. Though small talk is often seen as a time-waster, research has found that it is important for building rapport and trust. This, seemingly irrelevant, element of a meeting actually increases the chances that it will lead to a positive outcome.

Not just any kind of small talk will do, though. Emotionally intelligent people are careful to stay away from the common topics. Instead of starting with, ‘How about those [insert local sports team here]!’ emotionally intelligent people are more strategic and creative in their pre-meeting chitchat. What they do is prime the attendee to enter into a positive mental state. They use the pliability of these feel-good states to their advantage. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. An internal meeting can begin with a conversation around a recent success story in the practice, one in which the person you’re meeting with had a direct hand.
  2. An external meeting can start by addressing a person’s recent successes and accomplishments.

In both cases, the key lies in the attendee’s willingness to disclose and share the positive experience – get him or her to talk.

Priming people with feel-good emotions at the beginning of a meeting gets them (and their brains) into a favourable state called ‘broaden and build’. The brain state leads people to broaden their perceptual experience and see other things, though unrelated, through a glow of positivity.

The result? When the actual meeting begins, the ‘halo effect’ of the initial small talk makes bad things good, and good things great. High emotional intelligence people apply this knowledge and steer the meeting topics accordingly.

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