… And it ended with three little words

By Linda Feerick

i-love-youMy previous blog (It started with a kiss) described how we start our Alliance meetings, highlighting why we think the start a meeting is critical. Well, we also think that the middle and end are important too. Typically, it is the middle section (‘the business’) that gets all the attention and by the end we are in danger of morphing into Usain Bolt as we sprint to our next meeting (for which are probably already late). 

So, again, let’s just have a think about this. By the time we have reached the end of our Alliance agenda we are all pretty much spent. We have discussed, debated, decided, disagreed, and deferred. And there it sits on the agenda as the final item, ‘Appreciation Round’, daring us to ignore it. And we don’t. Ever. It has become part of our ritual of reflecting on the five hours just gone and the best possible way of ending our meeting. So what is it? Put simply, it is an opportunity for us to share what we have appreciated during the meeting. To ensure none of us think we are doing a speech at the Oscars, we often contain it to just three words. It could be about the whole meeting, the person sitting next to us, or an item on the agenda. Like most new ideas this one has been around for a while, and I couldn’t refer to this topic without acknowledging Nancy Kline. She is a true friend to the Alliance and brought it to life for us.

On the face of it this looks like a piece of cake. Trot out three words and off you go to the next item in your calendar. If only. To do it well takes prompt reflection and authenticity. I have spent 30 years attending meetings, doing business, making decisions. It’s all familiar to me, the etiquette of behaving well. My Alliance colleagues are equally skilled and experienced. When it comes to the Appreciation Round the usual rules aren’t very helpful. The tricky bit isn’t choosing my three words (although the land of the sycophantic can beckon at this point), it’s delivering them and receiving them. What my 30 years of practice hasn’t really prepared me for is how hard it is to give and receive laser-sharp positive feedback. No faffing permitted at this point. For me, it’s harder to receive the feedback than give it. I suspect it might be the same for others. I have a hardwired impulse to deflect the feedback or fidget as I pretend I am OK with this stuff. I have learned that courage comes more in receiving and owning feedback than it does in giving it.

The other challenge is not falling into groupthink. As we go around the table and hear the contributions of others it’s tempting to abandon your own words and jump on the thematic bandwagon. Safe but not authentic. You have to resist that urge and say what you have appreciated even if it lands in a different place to others. The pay off is that people will understand you better, and you are letting people see what was meaningful to you.

Why bother? It’s OK for a team of coaches who do this stuff for a living but what about those of us with proper jobs, you might challenge. I have witnessed the tangible outcomes for all kinds of teams embarking on this activity. The commitment to the agreed actions, to our colleagues, to the meeting process itself is higher. The positive emotions also lead to some inspired post meeting reflections (Ann is particularly brilliant at this) leading to new ideas and outcomes that go beyond the timeframe of the meeting itself.

For those of you leading a meeting any time soon I encourage you to give it a go. Keep the process light, have fun. Simply ask your team for three words of appreciation. And if they tell you they love you then maybe your Usain Bolt practice will come in handy after all.