The most powerful sentence to say in a meeting

Posted on August 16, 2012

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No, not ‘Anyone fancy a coffee?’ Though it is also a question.

It works whether it’s a meeting of two people or 20 people, face-to-face or over a conference call. In fact especially if it’s a conference call, because body language is usually absent, as recent experience has reminded me.

The sentence is simply this: ‘What do you think?’ 

I once attended some management training where I was taught that one sure-fire way to look like the person in a room who is in charge – regardless of who was chairing a meeting or actually the most senior/in-charge person in the room – is to use these words.

But that’s not necessarily your motive.

In so many environments where people are together (I hate to use ‘meetings’ as the catch-all for that) it is easy for some to bulldozer others. How often is the best idea or course of action in the head of someone who doesn’t get a say? Maybe they’re shy or introvert or maybe they think they’re too junior to pipe up. But missing that point of view isn’t good.

In general, asking ‘What do you think?’ is a productive, even polite thing to say. Only so few people do it.

And it can also get you out of scrapes, as I remembered for my book about panels and interviewing (Everything In Moderation: How to chair, moderate and otherwise lead events), talking about what to say on stage when you forget what you were going to say.

If it’s not a case of bringing other people in, if it’s not a case of wanting to look like you’re in charge, then ‘What do you think?’ is surely also the ultimate line in deflection.

What do you think?

*Meeting room stencil graffiti by clagnut used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC by 2.5).

Follow Tony on Twitter – @tphallett

Need to know about events? Buy the e-book, Everything In Moderation: How to chair, moderate and otherwise lead events, by Collective Content (UK) founder Tony Hallett from Amazon.co.uk.

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Posted in: Work