How to run meetings without authority
Aka how to spark disconfirming analysis for better decisions
When you’re running any consequential discussion among business leaders, as a young professional you may find yourself in one of two situations: the discussion converges too quickly OR it moves around in circles.
The best way for you to drive such a discussion is to steer it in the right direction. And that direction is away from preconceived position-taking AND toward open exploration.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐨𝐚𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐚𝐬𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐠𝐨𝐨𝐝 𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐨 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐬𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐧’𝐭 𝐯𝐚𝐠𝐮𝐞. 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐨𝐚𝐥 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐲 𝐛𝐨𝐭𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐮𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐧. 👀
If you’re in a position to influence but you don’t have authority, you want to turn the collective attention to the unseen.
I used to kick things off by setting the table and sharing the dinner menu with all guests until I realized my guests will just have what they want to have in the order they prefer. It is natural to become frustrated or judgmental in such a moment. If you’re like me, a small change can help you.
The desire for group harmony often shows itself in narrow problem framing (‘X is the only viable option so the question really is should we do X or not’). On the other hand, endless debate often springs from not knowing (or not agreeing on) the most important thing, so you have people, like at a party, arguing about completely different things without realizing so.
Roger Martin, author of The Opposable Mind, suggests issuing the decision-making group a simple challenge without challenging their world view. This is how you could frame it.
💡‘Let’s stop for a moment debating which option is best or which view is right. Let’s take each option on the table and ask: What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer? What is the evidence that would convince us about an option?’
The question works in two ways: 𝐢𝐭 𝐝𝐫𝐚𝐰𝐬 𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐚𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐟𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐫 and 𝐢𝐭 𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐚 𝐬𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐜𝐡 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐰𝐡𝐢𝐜𝐡 𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐩𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐨𝐧𝐞.
A belief-based argument is seldom productive. An evidence-focused exploration is almost always is. The way to make that switch is through a simple reframing.
So the next time you want to spark disconfirming views without appearing contrarian, ask out loud ‘What would have to be true for this to be right?’