How to Read a Room Before a Meeting Starts
07 Nov 2018
To have a successful meeting, it’s important to understand the words being spoken, as well as comprehend tacit, underlying feelings and interactions. You have to know how to pick up on subtle cues and assess the unspoken feelings meeting participants are having. You also need to be able to gauge how people are responding to you and adjust your communications accordingly.
In order to read between the lines, it’s critical to understand people and what they want and don’t want. This helps to build trust between you and your team. Some people find it easy to read a room and assess what people are thinking and feeling, but for others it is a challenge. The good news is that this skill can be learned and practiced. Below are some tips that will help you effectively read a room and evaluate people’s responses and engagement.
Listen & Observe
Listen closely to what people say and try not to talk too much. Give people the time and space to express themselves. Be present and hear what they are saying rather than waiting for your turn to speak. Make the other person feel heard by engaging in what they are saying and maintaining eye contact. Paraphrase what they tell you after they’re done speaking, so they realize you’re truly listening.
When initiating a meeting, do a quick scan of the room. Observe people’s facial expressions, posture, and body language to pick on how they are feeling. Look for micro-expressions, like raised eyebrows or smiles. Reflect upon the potential meaning behind individual and collective emotional states in the room. Knowing what is going on in people’s personal lives or jobs can help you with this. If you don’t know the people in the room, this will be difficult. Nevertheless, you can still gauge people’s motivating factors to some degree. Try to spot positive signals and concentrate on those.
Once you develop some ideas about a situation, check your beliefs and continue to gather information instead of leaning toward confirmation bias. Continue to be open to new interpretations and information. For example, if you have a one-on-one meeting with a team member after the group meeting, tell the person you noticed that he seemed frustrated by something and ask him how he feels about the situation. People appreciate it when you observe how they’re feeling and check in with them. Don’t assume you know how people feel. Ask them directly. Pose open-ended questions to try and figure out what’s really happening.
Emulate What the Experts Do
Think of someone you admire who is great at reading a room and identifying group dynamics. Isolate their behaviors and emulate what they do to try and improve your own social awareness.
People spend a lot of time in meetings, so ensuring that your meetings are productive and successful is important. Scanning and reading the room to get into tune with what participants are thinking and feeling is crucial to having an effective meeting. With this advice, you’ll be one step closer to planning, leading, and managing meetings that produce results.
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