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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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3 Participating in meetings

An illustration of a group of people around a meeting table.
Figure 2 Involvement at a meeting.

Attending meetings is a very common practice in most working environments – some would say too common! Meetings may come in the form of daily briefings or occur weekly, monthly or less frequently.

You may attend meetings for numerous reasons, both in and outside work. Meetings can involve two or more people and are increasingly held virtually, where one or more of the participants are not physically in the room.

Activity 2 My experience of meetings

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Thinking about your own experience of meetings (they do not have to be in the work setting), list the things that you find positive and negative about them. Focus in particular on the verbal communication that takes place.

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It is useful to reflect on your involvement in meetings as it can help you to identify ways to improve your experience in the future.

On the negative side you may have included:

  • feeling awkward and inarticulate
  • regretting that you didn’t contribute to a particular discussion
  • feeling that others always seem to know how to present their points more persuasively than you
  • feeling frustrated that others don’t let you speak.

If you have ever experienced any of these scenarios, it is safe to say that you are not alone. A key issue for many people in meetings is finding an opportunity to contribute. Take a moment to reflect on why that might be the case for you.

  • Do you feel frustrated when a colleague you discussed your great idea with now shares it with the group and fails to mention you?
  • Do you lose interest when your points are not heard because of louder people in the meeting?
  • Is confidence, boredom or frustration a factor?

Recognising the problem will help you address the issue.

More positive experiences might include:

  • enjoying the opportunity to have a detailed discussion
  • communicating with colleagues you don’t see very often
  • feeling that you are contributing to decisions/solutions.
A photograph of people at a meeting. The people have their hands up in response to something.
Figure 3 The importance of participation.

Contributing in a meeting can be daunting, but there are many reasons why it is in your best interest to do so, including the opportunity to:

  • participate and gain recognition for your contribution
  • share and develop your ideas through discussion with others
  • build networks through establishing common ground and interests.

To help set you on the path to participating in and contributing to meetings, try some of the suggestions below:

  • Remember that you know about your work and its context and that makes you an expert. Use that knowledge to help build your self-confidence.
  • Prepare in advance of the meeting. Make sure you read the agenda and consider the points that you may wish to raise. Undertaking research in advance is especially helpful if you prefer to take a more considered approach.
  • You might consider adding an agenda item, which will help you to raise a specific point that you would like meeting participants to address.
  • If you take the bold step of speaking early on, this will build your confidence and encourage you to speak more throughout the meeting.
  • Asking questions or seeking clarification also helps to show that you are interested in the points being made. Note of caution: Remember not to be aggressive, to dismiss somebody else’s contribution or to interrupt the speaker.
  • Keep your points snappy. Start them with ‘I would like to add…’ or ‘Can I say…’. Avoid starting with an apology, such as ‘I’m sorry but...’ as this tone can reduce the impact of what you are trying to say.
  • Sometimes you will find it easier to engage if you invite others to share their points, particularly if you notice that a colleague has tried to share their views but is struggling to be heard.
  • Avoid outright disagreements. Try to use language that is softer in tone and less confrontational than ‘I disagree’. Examples could include ‘I agree with xxx but have you also considered…’ or ‘I view it another way because…’.

If you are an introvert, then the planning and preparation points listed here could be particularly helpful.

If you are an extrovert, and do not normally have a problem speaking in meetings, it is also worth considering how you might be perceived. For example, do you allow others to contribute? Do you dominate discussions because others do not seem to want to join in?

As with many things, it is about creating a balance. The more people who engage, the richer the experience for everyone and greater the potential for better outcomes for the business.

Interviews and assessment centres

These points are equally relevant if you have to participate in a group discussion as part of an interview process.

Many graduate interview processes involve an assessment centre, where candidates are required to participate in a range of activities. Find out more on the Open University Careers and Employability website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .