No matter how far you climb up the ladder, do meetings still give you a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach? Does sitting in a room or Zoom call with your peers or leadership make you want to bite your nails or secretly wish that you were anywhere but your current calendar invite? 

This can be even more nerve-wracking if the meeting surrounds an important decision – such as selecting a new workflow or system for a department – and you were asked to lead it. You now have the tough task of building trust in a room full of people who may not know each other personally and are waiting to hear something interesting from you quickly or else they’ll lose interest. 

How do you boost confidence in both yourself and each other at the same time? Here are some recommendations on how to make this work:

1. Shut Your Laptops

It can be extremely hard to turn your brain off and not think about the six tasks you were in the middle of before the meeting started, but it’s extremely rude to not give the speaker your full attention and be typing or browsing on your laptop as they talk. According to Harvard Business Review, managers who often send emails during meetings are 2.2 times more likely to have direct reports who also multi-task in meetings, which is distracting and severely limits how engaged they can be in the discussion.  

In other words, it’s unproductive. Don’t do it.

2. Ask Questions, Even When You Know the Answer

In meetings built around solving problems, avoid offering an immediate solution. Instead, ask open-ended questions that prompt deeper discussion such as:

  • Why?
  • How do you measure success for this type of project? What’s our ROI?
  • Should we apply OKRs? And if so, which ones?
  • That seems counterintuitive – in what context does this apply?
  • Will this scale if we expand our services and/or experience rapid growth?
  • Who owns this workflow or will be affected by it?

By demonstrating humility and interest, you build trust.

3. Address “The Talker”

Does your team/office have a member with strong opinions who’s more than willing to share them or is highly respected by others in the room? Sometimes unintentionally, this person can dominate the space, leaving little room for others to talk or making others feel uncomfortable sharing their opinions.

If they are willing, have them jot their notes on a whiteboard (many offices today have dry erase walls that can be written on). It may even be worthwhile sharing the intention of the meeting with the person beforehand. They could then play devil’s advocate and lead part of the conversation in an area they’re particularly knowledgeable in. This gives them a piece of control while leaving space for others to “say their peace.”

4. Focus on Outcomes

It is very, very easy to get sidetracked in meetings and start to ramble. No one’s perfect – it happens – but if it’s done repeatedly, nothing will get accomplished.  

Start by conveying this in your meeting invite. Have an agenda. Write out what you hope to gain and who should be speaking to what (if possible). This not only makes sure you stick to time, but also drives accountability and gives clear direction on how to progress once this wraps up.

During the meeting, remind people of its purpose whenever the discussion strays off-course. And make it a point to end the meeting once you’ve reached the outcome you’re looking for. Productive meetings usually have that ring to it.

5. Engage the Quiet Ones

While some love to speak during meetings, others aren’t always as confident. They may prefer speaking one-on-one or via email, which is fine – but if you’re completely quiet during every meeting, someone will take notice. You’ll need to create a space for them.

Just like the person who tends to overshare, it may be helpful to send talking points to more reserved guests beforehand so they have time to think through the topic. During the meeting, spot opportunities to pull them into the conversation. It still may be a bit unnerving to them, but at least they’ve had time to think through their answer. They’ll see you as someone looking out for them and will be willing to listen to you as you’ve given more people a chance to be heard.

6. Enforce Zero Tolerance for Interruptions

Making sure everyone can contribute fully without disruption is just good business. Whether done consciously or not, interrupting people mid-conversation is flippant and does not foster any progress. It’s up to us to graciously remind others that this is unacceptable behavior that must be stopped. 

A blanket “no interrupting” policy is a good place to start. When someone slips up, a simple “Hang on a second – I want to make sure [insert employee’s name here] has a chance to finish” from you serves as reinforcement and ensures no one is silenced.

This helps you set the tone and if you’re capable of garnering that respect and giving instruction that’s listened to, people will begin to trust your word because you’re willing to protect everyone in the room.

Interested in learning how other Systems leaders have built trust in meetings with stakeholders and colleagues at their organizations? Request to Join Our Community >

Pamela Seaton
About Pamela Seaton

Pamela is a journalist and technology enthusiast writing for the growing business systems community.