By Dan Hebert, PE, senior technical editor
Meetings and group decision-making are the rage in Corporate America. Both of them, too frequently, can be time-consuming pains.
Let’s face it. When you attend a business-related meeting, you have certain ideas about how things should be done. Dealing with less-enlightened meeting participants is frustrating and wastes time. Worse, you often come out of the meeting with few, if any, of your ideas incorporated in the final decisions.
The good news is that I can offer you a foolproof way to make sure your opinions are adopted enthusiastically by others in group situations. It takes a little manipulation and a willingness to let others grab some spotlight. This skill was the single-most-important thing I learned during my MBA studies.
MBA programs require students to frequently work on projects in groups. In my groups, I always had very strong opinions, as did all of the other group members. After all, MBA students are notoriously arrogant and opinionated.
I would vigorously voice my opinions. Others would do the same, and a lengthy battle would ensue for group domination, because everyone wanted to be the alpha dog.
Many hours and many painful meetings later we finally would come grudgingly to consensus and proceed with the project. Those group members whose main ideas were adopted would end up doing most of the work. The others would chip in as little as possible.
This was a lose/lose situation for me. If my ideas were adopted, I would have to do more than my share of the work.
If my ideas weren’t the ones used, I would not be happy with the final project outcome. In either case, a lot of time was wasted trying to hammer out a consensus.
There had to be a better way, and I discovered it during one of those meetings by accident. My mind was elsewhere at an initial group meeting on a new project and I shut up long enough to let others speak up first.
They babbled on with their inferior ideas, but then Mary presented an idea that was very close to the most important point I wanted to make. My ears perked up, and I agreed with her enthusiastically.
The other group members thought I was a swell guy for agreeing, instead of just voicing my own opinion.
Mary now was my new best friend, at least for the duration of the project. In the excitement of subsequent discussions, I was able to modify Mary’s idea to make it just like mine. Mary got credit for the idea, Mary did most of the work, and our group got an A.
From this experience I formulated a few rules for getting things done the right way—your way—in a group setting.
Go to each meeting with well-thought-out ideas about desired outcomes. Say nothing. When someone articulates an idea similar to yours, endorse it wholeheartedly. Modify that person’s idea as necessary to fit yours more closely.
In some instances, however, no one in the group will be smart enough to independently voice ideas close to yours.
No problem. Most people love to talk about their own ideas, and with a little subterfuge you can put a few words in their mouths. All it takes is a little patience and a few well-placed words. After a while, it actually is fun.
A few precautions are necessary. This technique doesn’t work when there are only two people in the group willing to voice opinions, so don’t try it on your spouse. You must have three or more group members so that you can acquire an ally or allies.
This technique doesn’t work with e-mail discussions. With e-mail, people tend to think twice before they write and most of us don’t write thousands of words. The result is that e-mail tends to be relatively brief and well-considered, which is why it is the best invention since fire.
So remember now, never voice your own opinion first. Let someone else voice your idea. Then agree with it.
You will have an instant ally and a much better chance of getting your opinions incorporated in the final solution.