Leadership is most effectively done in the context of deep, meaningful relationships when you know that those with whom you work side-by-side have the same dreams and goals you do. This type of “relational equity” is built over long periods of intentionally-planned time. But what happens when you know you’ll be going into a highly emotional situation where opinions will differ and the stakes are high? How do you build influence within one high-stakes meeting when you’ve never had a chance to first develop a relationship?
During my years of consulting for special education teams, I was often put in this position. Realistically, there are many situations where parents do not agree with teachers or principals, and the teachers and principals may not even agree themselves. We’re talking about children’s futures here, so emotions would often run very high! I would come in as a sort of middle man, gauging the situation and making suggestions for improvement or course of action. In a majority of these instances, I would not have a developed relationship with one or more of the individuals involved. Maybe I knew the special education teacher, but it was my first time working with the regular education teacher. I had to learn quickly how to navigate emotionally-choppy waters while keeping the goal of the team out in front of us all. Over time, I realized a sort of FORMULA FOR MICROWAVING RELATIONSHIPS:
1) Start With The Heart
The reason that a meeting is “high-stakes” is because varying parties are passionate about reaching the same goal, but have different points of view concerning how to achieve it. But what is that goal? What is the heart behind why the person you’re meeting with feels so deeply about their position? As soon as the conversation becomes tense, redirect it back to that goal, the heart, of the conversation.
2) Seek and Share Background Information
What is the background knowledge of the person you’re meeting with? What are their experiences, strengths and skills that they can contribute to the conversation? This is also a great time to insert your history, to build influence, but also to make connections with the person you’re meeting with. Any time you can make a connection with someone, and then point back to the heart of why you’re meeting, it more closely aligns you as a team rather than as opponents.
3) Suggestions are Taken Seriously
When you know you’re going into a high-stakes meeting, it’s natural to have planned out a list of points that need to be made or decisions that need to go in your favor. Not everything that is suggested can be followed up on, but when you “give” in one area, you have a greater ability to “take” in another. At the point where tough decisions are being made, take suggestions seriously and act on them quickly. Remember that this meeting is usually a starting point for future interactions.
Valuing someone now can lead to a valuable relationship later.
4) Show Genuine Concern
Finish the meeting by sincerely asking, “Aside from what we’ve talked about already, what can I do to help you?” This is one more way to connect with the heart, and to show that you truly mean to serve and give your best for everyone involved.
In the end, the goal of a high-stakes meeting needs to be for everyone to remember that it’s not “us vs. them”, it’s “us working together”. Having an entire group of people working toward the same goal is much more effective… and much more fun!
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