- by Andy Molinsky, Harvard Business Review, 10/28/16.
You could have, and should have, scheduled a series of strategic “pre-meetings” with stakeholders before the actual meeting. Pre-meetings are essential for anyone looking to have a successful meeting about a contentious issue. They are opportunities for information gathering, coalition building, building trust and rapport with allies and potential detractors, and stress testing and refining your arguments and perspectives. That way, by the time the actual meeting happens, you have a well-thought-out set of justifications for your point of view.
What are some best practices for using pre-meetings to navigate your way around politically charged issues in large organizational meetings?
Talk to the Right People
You’re probably not going to have time for a pre-meeting with everyone who will be at the actual meeting, but make sure that you line up people who will be directly affected by whatever decision is going to be made, as well as those who have the most political influence — even if their own area won’t necessarily be affected…
It’s also crucial to meet with people who have a different point of view so you can anticipate objections and, perhaps most important, incorporate their thinking into any proposals you suggest…
During your pre-meeting, don’t be so focused on convincing people that you fail to hear what they say. Instead, really listen to their point of view, work hard to understand their interests and underlying positions, and demonstrate that you appreciate and understand their perspective. They’re much more likely listen to and accept your point of view if you’ve treated them with dignity and respect in these initial stages.
Be open and be honest; don’t hide potential issues that they might be unhappy with. In fact, make sure to surface these issues up front, anticipating their concerns and inviting them to suggest potential ideas for a joint solution. For example, you might say: “I can imagine this might be a concern or problem, and I’d like to hear your thoughts and any ideas you have for addressing this issue.”
By bringing these players into the debate early on, you have a chance to frame the problem as a joint issue — something you are collaborating to solve — which increases the odds of having a fruitful meeting.
Don’t Overlook the Importance of Framing
Be sure to present contentious issues in a way that will resonate with the other person. If you’re talking to someone who’s afraid of rocking the boat, don’t frame your new initiative as revolutionary or risky. Instead, frame it as incremental and as something that has been sanctioned or endorsed by people high up in power. Show how it is consistent with the values of the company or brand and with what the company is already doing. On the other hand, if someone is a risk taker, explain how what you’re doing is a bold move for the company..,