Brett Jarman

Apr 1, 2021

5 min read

On Meetings, Human Dialogue and Intimacy

4 humans in a typical meeting where 1 or 2 people dominate the conversation at the expense of others
Humans in a ‘typical’ meeting

How many meetings do you go to where two or three people do the vast majority of the talking and you can’t get a word in?

How many do you go to where those who attend are just there to give status updates and you wonder why it couldn’t have been an email?

And how many meetings do you go to that make you lose the will to live?

If your answer to one or more of the above is “too many”, you’re not alone. A handy infograph and analysis over at lays bare all of the stats.

Unsurprisingly, we still spend a significant amount of time in meetings (a large proportion of which we would also consider unproductive) and the number has only grown since the start of the pandemic, likely due to meetings being seen as the predominant way of staying connected virtually with colleagues.

Whilst there is plenty to say about unnecessary meeting frequency and poor meeting structures, what we also need to consider is the impact these ‘typical’ meetings have on the ability for humans to form and grow relationships with one another.

If we’re unable to grow relationships effectively, then our working environments and experience doing the job will suffer as a result.

The Four Types of Conversations (David W. Angel, 2016)

So how do typical meetings hinder our ability to grow relationships?

It comes down to how we converse with one another. David W. Angel does a great job in his blog post at explaining the different types of conversations we engage in as illustrated above.

A lot of people have a tendency to go into meetings with the intention of launching into 1-way lecture at the earliest opportunity. It might be that the person chairing wants to feel in control or is utilising their position to emphasise their own opinion at the expense of others. There might be an individual who is incredibly passionate about the topic and this is their chance to express those feelings.

There will be lots of other scenarios. Ultimately people like and want to be heard!

What these 1-way conversations result in however is other attendees being forced to sit quietly and potentially never get the chance to speak and exchange information or ask questions in return. For some, interrupting or speaking over someone and most likely initiating a debate may be the only way to throw in their 2 pence.

How does that feel though? Rude? Uncomfortable? Frustrating?

There’s also a risk as David mentions that seemingly 2-way conversations are actually just two separate discourses or diatribes. You may have been in meetings where attendees are taking turns to speak (appearing to be in dialogue) but the connection between what people are saying is missing, usually because the listening is poor or there’s a lack of care about what is being said by the other person.

The outcome of this tends to be conversations going round in circles, no clear decision made or learnings acquired, and potentially further harm to relationships as attendees feel others are incapable of agreeing or seeing their perspective.

All in all, it doesn’t seem like these traditional meeting approaches achieve much — no surprise there!

That said, it’s worth noting at this point that all four of these conversation types can actually be useful if applied appropriately and it’s clear what type of conversation people are entering into.

For instance, webinars tend to be discourse conversations but are still of value as a way of gaining information. Chances are, it’s commonly known that they will be run in discourse style in advance, so attendees are less likely to be disappointed if there’s little opportunity for debate for instance.

However if we’re in the business of growing relationships, particularly with work colleagues, having more of the same tired old meetings just aren’t going to cut it.

Enter human dialogue.

Going into a conversation with purpose and care at the heart, sets us up to listen more deeply to what the other is saying and achieve a positive result.

In doing so, we can not only learn more about the topic that’s discussed but more importantly, learn about the humans who attend.

In a recent Podcast, Lucy Barkas and Caterina Kostoula discuss how to hold successful meetings and many ways in which to go about this, including Caterina’s 4D’s framework:

By asking the question “why do we need this meeting [or conversation] in the first place?”, we can better ensure it will be worthwhile and also help inform who should be involved. If only 3 people have the authority to make a decision for example, there’s no point in inviting 20 others to that decision making meeting— they can be consulted with outside and prior to the meeting.

As well as this being a more efficient use of time, it enables more voices to be heard and captured much more effectively. Being able to have more intimate time with a much smaller group or with others on a 1 to 1 basis, allows for deeper conversations to take place.

Through a deeper listening environment, more information can be exchanged, perspectives can be better understood, bonds and mutual respect can be formed and people will feel more cared about. All key building blocks of effective relationship building.

And meetings aren’t the only solution. Belinda Gannaway has identified 5 ‘moments’ that provide the opportunity for humans to make connections:

Rather than go into detail here, I would invite you to check out Belinsa’s report via the link above to learn more. Essentially, all of these moments consist of events that are already be taking place in most organisations. The trick is to take advantage of them more as a way of bringing people together and forming relationships through mutual interests.

Before departing, take a moment to reflect on your own relationships with fellow humans at work.

How many relationships would you consider to be intimate?

What would be the impact on your experience at work if you had more closer relationships with colleagues?

How might you better form those kind of relationships? What opportunities are there currently to take advantage of?

We don’t have to be friends with everyone, but we all need attention, a feeling of being part of a community and intimacy to truly flourish in organisations, and our relationships provide the foundation for this.