Diffusing Meeting Room Tension the Right Way

Have you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach about going to meetings? There are many reasons we may dread meetings—they can be boring, ineffective, unfocused, not related to our responsibilities, poorly managed, a waste of time, and the list goes on and on.  

But in this blog we want to deal with a special case of “meeting dread”—perhaps the worst kind of dread. It’s the kind that comes from fear.

“Fear undermines every facet of leadership, and it should not be a go-to motivational strategy for honorable leadership.” [Tweet This]

We all have fears, thus overcoming them should always be a key part of our efforts to become better leaders.

Building the Bridge of Trust

Our experience shows that great leaders create an inviting workplace by extending and building trust. Some leaders naturally build this workplace culture, while others have a learning curve based on their natural behaviors or past experiences.

Honorable leaders foster healthy environments where people’s talents are unleashed, where meetings involve collaboration and synergy, and where debate of ideas and methods is encouraged. These desired qualities can only exist where there is trust.

“Trust is the antidote to fear and the foundation for safe, productive meetings.” [Tweet This]

But how do you build trust and eliminate fear? Let’s hear from an expert.

3 Ways to Diffuse Tension

In this month’s coaching video, I interviewed Tom Crawford, a friend here in Atlanta with a career marked by great success as CEO and Chairman in three major companies.[i]  His perspective gave great insights into how successful leaders build trust and eliminate fear.

Tom highlighted three crucial steps for leaders who want to create a healthy work environment where people will look forward to meetings.[ii] Please watch and read further –

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  1. Be intentional to show respect and dignity for others.

Tom learned to appreciate all types of people early in life when working construction to pay for college. He could see the good in others regardless of their education or background. Then as a manager in the insurance industry, he learned the frustration and demotivation of having an unhealthy boss whose style was to dominate and bully, creating fear through disrespect and contempt for his people. From these opposite experiences Tom made a commitment to lead others by showing genuine respect and dignity. Having that type of commitment takes a lot of courage and inner confidence.

  1. Establish clear expectations.

Next, watch above as he talked about the importance of having clear expectations for meetings. It reduces fear and gives positive energy that increases productivity and problem-solving.

It’s crucial that everyone understands the ground rules, their responsibilities, the agenda, and the leader’s desired outcomes. They should expect that if they’re on target with their commitments, they can feel good about reporting successful progress. On the other hand if they are behind in meeting their goals, they must provide solid explanations and solutions about the problems. With a healthy team, they can also expect that others may offer helpful ideas or support.

  1. Communicate openly and often to collaborate.

In the coaching clip, Tom kept coming back to the importance of healthy communications to facilitate the kind of transparency needed to collaborate and work as a team. Ultimately individual goals impact team goals, which drive organizational success. Communicating effectively is hard work for anyone, but it’s more of a stretching exercise and adapting out of their comfort zone for others.

One of our senior leaders in the POW camps, CDR Jim Stockdale (later Admiral Stockdale) said that communications were the “blood and sinew” that held the POWs together into a team. For us, it was a requirement for survival.

Make it a Leadership Habit

So what kind of leader are you? Have you made it a habit to be intentional about valuing others and helping them feel important? Are you establishing clear expectations for each person’s goals and for what happens in your meetings? Are you being intentional to communicate openly and often to promote collaboration within your team?

Keep in mind that these steps are particularly difficult when a team or organization is having financial challenges, but this process is even more important in those situations. Make the choice to have the character, courage, and commitment to follow through. Please join the conversation by commenting below.


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[i] Tom Crawford began as an insurance clerk and worked his way up to the executive suite and boardroom. He has served as Chairman and CEO of three major insurance companies. He now serves on several boards and heads Crawford Corporate Coaching, where he helps executive teams create clarity and systems for greater success.

[ii] Tom’s philosophy and methods parallel the approach outlined in our Courageous Accountably model presented in my recent book Engage with Honor.

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