Making Decisions in Virtual Meetings

Picture the scene. You are a manager who loves collaboration. But it’s difficult to nurture it, because you often find yourself coming up with many ideas. You feel that, while other people’s ideas often get picked apart and explored, yours tend to remain unchallenged.

This leaves you wondering whether you are a machine that often comes up with perfect ideas – or whether team members are just used to following your lead.

Can I Have Your Input, Please?

It can be difficult to make space for people to voice their opinions and suggestions when we hold decision making power in a team. All sorts of group dynamics come into place and it might be difficult to really hear what the team has to say about your idea– sometimes team members find it easier and more comfortable to agree with your idea rather than to unpick it or challenge it.

So, how about trying this:

  • Raise the issue you want to discuss and explain your own position.
  • Ask for reactions to your position. Think about how you’re going to phrase your question. The easiest is to say “What do you think?” rather than, “Do you agree?”
  • Use silence – it can be uncomfortable but it will give people the space to speak.
  • When someone does contribute, see whether you can paraphrase what they say. It’s a way of assimilating someone’s opinion and making sure you’ve understood their point and not just interpreted it. It also sends a strong signal that you are genuinely trying to understand what someone else is saying. (And here is the key too, you need to be genuine. Otherwise, don’t bother with this exercise…)
  • Draw out people’s opinions. “I think it’s a great idea” is nice to hear, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the person’s reaction to it, or how to build on that great idea. “What about it do you like specifically?” will bring you closer to understanding the position of the speaker and may help you to develop the idea in ways you hadn’t thought of yourself.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, can you tell me more?

More importantly than drawing out why people agree with you is to draw out why people might disagree with you and how they might change your idea to improve it. In some cases a simple “Tell me more about that” might start to draw out their opinions. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, can you tell me more?” is a short statement that might encourage people to elaborate – instead of seeing it as a challenge to authority, they are given permission to inform you of their thinking.

Enjoy the Silence

To make space for everyone to contribute their thoughts in a virtual meeting, you will need to be comfortable with silence. You will need to make note of how opens their mouth but doesn’t get to speak because their connection is slower. You need to be extra vigilant.

When you’re asking for people’s opinions about your idea, forget that you are the one exploring an idea – concentrate on creating the space for others to voice their own. What is going to help them speak out?

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this post, check out the podcast episode below, at around 14mins30secs.