Today, we’re beginning a new series on communication. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing insights, strategies, and tips for communicating during all kinds of circumstances: under stress, in the workplace, when delivering a presentation, and so on. The valuable content we provide will help you excel as a communicator and gain a highly coveted skill that can see you rise in both your personal and professional life.

We’ll begin by discussing how to communicate effectively during business meetings. In the corporate space, meetings are part of the routine. They serve many purposes. For one, they encourage teamwork by providing a space where employees can brainstorm together, set team goals, and engage in healthy dialogue. Meetings additionally provide an opportunity to share information such as financial updates, contract negotiations, workplace issues, new projects, and more.

Of course, meetings can sometimes veer onto thin ice when an entire team is gathered around the table. Nevermind the fact that the room is filled with any number of personality types and perspectives, but if there’s a heated topic on the table (reviewing a failed project, for instance), then tensions are bound to be high. One of the hardest blows to team morale is a high-stakes meeting that implodes because of poor communication and meeting management.

Here are 4 tips to bear in mind to communicate more effectively in your next meeting:

 

  1. Mind your tone. Does the message you’re delivering sound negative or positive? What feeling is your tone reflecting? The energy in your voice can provide many clues into what you’re actually thinking. If you’re delivering praise to an employee for a recent success but your tone lacks energy and comes across more so bored or uninterested, it would be the same as not praising the employee at all—or worse, even criticizing them! The same holds true when critiquing a team’s performance. There’s no need to be belligerent or disparaging, as this will only put your employees on the defense and increase the tension in the room—fertile ground for argumentation and division. Mind your tone and learn how to positively provide constructive criticism. Doing so will keep team morale where it needs to be and will motivate your employees to do better.

 

  1. Choose your words wisely. This goes along hand-in-hand with the above. Something as simple as the words you use can build up a team…or tear one down! By all means, avoid language that makes assumptions or discriminates. Matt Stratz, CEO of the HR software Namely, also says this: “Don’t make statements that personally call out the employee like, ‘you should’, ‘you didn’t’, or ‘your skills’. Instead, discuss the issue by saying, ‘customers can’t get what they need’, or ‘this isn’t clear’.” No one wants to be singled out in a meeting and made to feel like their experience, education, and/or skillset isn’t where it needs to be. It can be demoralizing. When you choose the right words, however, and shift the focus on a project’s objective, it takes the weight off your team members and helps them to remember the bigger picture.

 

  1. Watch your body language. We don’t just speak with our words—we speak with our bodies as well. In fact, our body language very often betrays what we’re truly thinking or the state of our attitude. Eye-rolling, crossed arms, pursed lips—these are all expressions all of us have undoubtedly seen in a meeting or two. Pay attention to the way your own body is speaking during meetings. If you present a closed-off body, for example, you may intimidate your employees and cause them to shy away from offering input or ideas. Forcing a smile can indicate insincerity, potentially causing a team member to feel their contribution to a meeting fell short. And of course looking at the clock, your watch, or your phone is a sure sign of boredom or impatience, which is a sure way to guarantee an employee never speaks up in a meeting again—you’ve made them feel under-valued. On the other hand, positive body language such as a relaxed posture, leaning in when someone is speaking, good eye contact, taking notes, and head nodding and smiling will allow your employees to feel at east, validated, and understood.

 

  1. Be attentive. This last tip might sound obvious enough, but you’d be surprised how often teams fail to practice it. One of the easiest ways to achieve attentiveness is simply by providing an agenda at the beginning of every meeting. An agenda is essential to planning a productive meeting. It provides a list of topics for discussion, it provides structure and focus for the meeting, it ensures that all information is covered, and perhaps most importantly: it allows each team member to adequately prepare for the meeting and thus increases engagement, teamwork, and information sharing. Nothing’s hidden when you work with an agenda, so employees don’t feel ambushed by topics (thus lowering tension and stress and allowing them to communicate more calmly). Another important tool is active listening. Active listening can help teams avoid misunderstandings, and more easily resolve conflicts. There are a number of trainings on active listening available that can help you and your employees excel as communicators.

 

Meetings unfortunately get a bad reputation more often than not, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When you manage your meetings effectively and learn how effective communication can aid you and your employees in sharing ideas and building the team up, your meetings will become productive forums where goals are not only set—but achieved like never before!