Don’t Make This Mistake When Leading a Meeting

When leading a meeting, it’s always important to keep the goal in mind and not get caught up with small details. A case study shows how leaders can focus on what matters most during meetings

You’re a division manager at your firm. Your team has been working on a difficult issue for months, and you convene a meeting to discuss alternative solutions.

You spend 15 minutes putting out the primary problem while sitting at the head of a table surrounded by your subordinates.

You then discuss what you believe is the best course of action for resolving the problem.

You’ve now opened the floor to recommendations since you’re a democratic manager who recognizes the value of obtaining as much feedback as possible from a variety of perspectives.

Your crew glances at you uncomfortably or furrows their brows, seeming to be thinking of a solution. Finally, someone speaks up, but instead of proposing fresh ideas, they take one of yours and slightly change it. Another uneasy pause. Another individual supports the amended proposal made by the courageous soul who spoke out originally.

You adjourn the meeting after thirty awkward minutes, annoyed with your nincompoop, yes-men colleagues who couldn’t even come up with a single fresh innovative suggestion to address the thorny challenge that your division is facing. “For what am I paying these people?” you resentfully wonder.

But what if the issue isn’t with the folks you’re in charge of? What if the issue is you, and you’re making the same little but critical error every time you conduct a meeting? What if you could quickly remedy that error and begin evoking much more engagement?

The Negative Impact of the Ending

Annie Duke, a former professional poker player, discussed a psychological bias that is fairly frequent yet may be fatal for poker players in my podcast with her (and the rest of us as well). It’s called “resulting,” and it’s when you assess a decision’s merit based on its outcome. It’s a narrative fallacy: a good choice might nonetheless result in a negative outcome when other factors, such as chance, are at play. In poker, for example, you might make the greatest moves imaginable depending on the cards you’re given yet still lose a hand. You may also make terrible decisions and yet win because of luck.

Focusing on results may have a detrimental impact on your decision-making process; as Duke put it, “it simply ends up warping everything.” On your choice analysis, it’s like a giant gravity well… It’s as though you’ve put on blinders. You won’t be able to look beyond it.” This erroneous thinking manifests itself in a few of ways.

If you measure a choice’s quality or “rightness” purely on its consequence after you’ve made it, you could misunderstand what was, in reality, a solid decision that just happened to go wrong. You may be hesitant to continue making the same sorts of judgments based on this one coin toss’s short-term loss, but in the long run, over many tosses, it would really be to your favor.

However, this has a detrimental influence on the decision-making process in the first place. If you’re planning to make a choice and already know the greatest potential conclusion, you’ll stop exploring for other information and possibilities, and other people will be less willing to offer opposing viewpoints with you since they sense your mind is made up. You wind yourself on an exceedingly narrow, single-track path to what you believe is the ideal outcome.

 

“What we truly want to do is be examining our actions in the absence of consequences as much as possible,” Duke says.

Why Does Resulting Ruin Your Meetings, and How Can You Avoid It?

So, how does any of this relate to holding a meeting?

“The easiest approach to prevent resulting is to not know the outcome,” Duke argues.

But that’s precisely what you’re getting when you provide what you believe is the greatest answer to an issue before getting input from your team. You generate a result in their minds by presenting your perspective first. You are the one who determines the result.

When this happens, Duke explains, two things happen:

You end up producing a form of resulting, in which others will reason toward it in the same manner that they reason toward making an outcome make sense after the leader has declared their view. People will begin to reason toward what the leader has claimed as the ultimate truth, number one, as a consequence of what you’ve done.

Number two, when they assert things with confidence, individuals in the room are much, much less willing to offer facts that could contradict whatever the proclaimed position is, and there are two reasons for this. One is that they may believe they are incorrect. If they’re not 100 percent sure of their own convictions, if they have any doubts, if they believe we should be going a different path, but I’m only 40 percent sure, they’re not going to speak up for fear of being told, ‘You’re incorrect,’ or ‘You’re unpleasant.’ Or they’re frightened of upsetting the leader by admitting they’re mistaken. They are hesitant to reply, “No, I disagree with you.” They’re afraid they’ll get in trouble if they say anything, so they prefer to remain quiet.

In other words, after you’ve determined the result, your subordinates will assess whether their own ideas are correct or incorrect, excellent or awful, depending on how closely they resemble yours. They won’t feel comfortable offering ideas that differ from yours; instead, their thinking will default to the parameters you’ve already established, and they’ll only say things that slightly alter what you’ve already presented.

“A lot of individuals assume, ‘Well, in order to truly be convincing to my team, in order for them to feel that I have the authority to be leading them, I need to be saying things so clearly,” Duke says.

People, on the other hand, don’t necessarily demand or even want leaders to be certain about everything. On the contrary, kids will value the freedom to share their thoughts and beliefs in a non-judgmental environment.

So, when you’re holding meetings with the goal of eliciting participation and feedback, stick to this basic rule: Don’t discuss your thoughts on potential solutions before asking your team for comments.

 

Simply describe the issue and then invite others to provide solutions. You avoid the traps of resulting and outcome bias by not tossing out your proposals right away. Members of your team will be more inclined to look outside the box and not simply follow your predetermined viewpoints. And since you haven’t expressed what you’re thinking yet, there’s less fear of making the boss appear stupid in front of everyone.

If you observe that individuals are still reluctant to participate, say something along the lines of, “I don’t have any firm thoughts on this, guys, so please don’t hesitate to toss out your wildest ideas.” Encourage individuals to consider in terms of probabilities: “Even if you’re only 40% confident about something, share it anyhow.”

At the next meeting you conduct, try to avoid this typical blunder. You’ll be astonished at how much more interaction you get.

Listen to my whole podcast with Annie Duke for more on making better choices in business and in life, as well as the benefits of thinking in probabilities: