How to have the Perfect Meeting: Priya Parker and Beth ComstockJun 11, 2021
Hi, I'm Beth Comstock, here for another changemaker book club. We are live on Facebook. We'll be answering her questions for the next half hour and I'm delighted to
havePriya Parker, who has written a beautiful book. every sense of the word a beautiful message beautifully written it is about the art of gathering, but take a minute and remember what we do with the changemaker book club it is about a kind of
meetingit is a virtual and physical
meetingwe are here we work in the New York City, so there's a lot of movement, but we started this a year ago as a way to bring business people together to bring them together and share ideas that can help them navigate change and, if, frankly, just lead forward, we are delighted.
Priya, congratulations on the book, thank you, let's get started, tell us why you wrote the book, why we
haveenough meetings, why we need a book about it, so I wrote the book partly because I was frustrated with the kind of wisdom and advice that Frankly, they have come from previous generations on the assumptions of what makes meetings work and if you look at what I jokingly called the meeting industrial complex, most of them I know you know them well, yes, most of the books and the magazines are about flower picking and recipes, and you know, the crudités and the canapés and the Martha Stewart type of gathering, you don't know, no offense to Martha Stewart, the person, but really the symbol of what that meeting really means.
Do we think that the type of goal and the setup of things that work also work, like the PowerPoint fonts and the AV equipment and all the tech stuff, and we forget to focus on how to connect people once they're there? In fact, between you, yes, a little bit about Priya Priya, you are the founder of Thrives and you received training in conflict resolution. I feel like I thought I was the
perfectperson to talk to about navigating change, meaning and work, yes we talked. There's a lot about change, but no one can change a culture, a company, a team on their own, it's a continuous set of resident conflicts, dealings and meetings, so I'd love for you to talk a little bit about how you got there.
That's how you became a professional picker, yeah, how did that happen? So, you know, I think there's so many things that we fix in our work, things that we're missing in our lives, and I'm biracial. I grew up. I grew up in two different households, my parents got divorced and I grew up between these two households, every two weeks, you know, they do it in custody, so every two weeks I would be between a progressive Indian, vegetarian, liberal, democrat, British home , Indian, and then. I drive a mile or they would drive me a mile, you know, to the west and I walked into my father's house, who is a white American conservative evangelical Christian who eats meat twice a week, goes to church home and I had to discover how to belong to both of them and then, on some level, you could say, "You know, I got into conflict resolution with commas because my whole life was about navigating different worlds and figuring out when two different people and worlds collide and firmly disagree about particular religion." and things that are a little divisive, how do you continue to create community and why do people come together and why do people break up?
This seems so important and relevant in the world we live in now. I'm sure that doesn't go unnoticed. or new or anyone as you say that yes, why does it seem that we are looking for something with our meetings? What do they mean to us as humans? Hmm, I mean, we've been meeting for a while now. We are social animals or social creatures and therefore the meeting is not new, but I think partly because we have focused so much on the form of meeting that we have thrown function out the window and I think particularly the type of the next generation of Millennials, but also, you know, Generation For this book, I interviewed over 100 different foragers.
I interviewed a choreographer from Cirque de Soleil. A rabbi. A Japanese master of the tea ceremony. A dominatrix. Yes, I thought. You were very brave with a variety of people and one of the things I found over and over again was that they really focused on how you create heat, how do you do one of the characters that I interviewed as a woman called Ida Benedito? and she creates these kinds of amazing underground experiences in New York City and the question that she and her business partner ask before every experience that they create is what is it that this group of people are avoiding with such a generally good question, that It's a great question, yes. and what is the risk and facing it and what is the gift and facing it and if you just ask that simple question before every meeting, even if you decide not to face it, they will transform your meeting, so repeat that, what is this group? of people who avoid it and what the risk is in facing it, yes, and it's worth it, and what the gift is, yes, and it's worth the risk.
I love it, so I hope you don't shy away from asking a few questions to remind you that we're answering questions. Live, many of you have already given us questions on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will appear. Um, it talks about you, this great line says, make purpose your gatekeeper and talk about purpose and how you find your purpose and what it is. We are meeting we think about what we have to accomplish we have a project we have a client right we are going to have a wedding right but you are saying that is not enough yes I mean what I think one of the problems with so many meetings particularly in the In the workplace and any type of meeting or gathering where we assume what it should look like is that we skip the question of why we are gathering for a wedding or a birthday party because we have an image in our mind of what it looks like. so that we train with board meetings because we have a picture of what needs to be seen, we skip the training and we don't actually say what this group needs now and what this group may need now could be to spend time in a cemetery I mean, I'm making this up, but it doesn't necessarily have to be like sitting and behaving and playing the roles that are often associated with the ways we can say, so how do you win when a customer comes?
You've worked with a variety of organizations, from activists to corporations to non-profits, right, yeah, when someone comes because we want to do this kind of meeting, you just do it and you say no, yeah, how does it all come into play? ? How does it work if I? I come to you and say I want to do it this way and you say no it's not going to work for you yeah so you know someone could come to me and say we want to get this group of people together and I'm trying to think In an example that I can really share: we want to bring together a group of people and the food movement and for two days 70 people and talk about the future of sustainable food, so that's a good purpose on some level, but bringing together 70 people and When trying to figure out what to actually do with them, you need to dig a little deeper.
Are you trying to focus on areas of disagreement and reach agreement? The purpose is simply to build trust and the purpose is to talk about the parties in the conflict. food system that are problematic is the purpose of talking about the type of heat in the room and if it is the heat then they should gather the farmers who know people from Pepsi and people from the school systems and get into the design of the room. and based on people literally protesting at each other's meetings, that's interesting, right, and that's why it's difficult, it's difficult, but a part of you knows that people attend meetings and gatherings when you have a specific purpose, when they feel it makes sense to be there. for that purpose and when you talk about the things that matter in a safe way, you know that and you can do it in a facilitated way, so one of the questions that came here is from Kimberly Butterworth and it came through LinkedIn and Kimberly says what is the optimal approach. for the 10d meeting, she creates this idea that you know we have too many people showing up to meetings and you can't let anyone in, you can't leave anyone out.
The clients want to bring 800 people. The company wants to bring 800 people to the client meeting. and it becomes unmanageable and you lose sight of your purpose you are very strict about this yes, what is it about? I love this question, it's a great question and I love the framing as it's haunting, basically your purpose should be very, very deeply connected to who. you invite and one of the things that I think is kind of an old saying that has ruined a lot of our meetings is the idea that the more the merrier or that we should be, you know, radically inclusive if someone wants to be there.
Who are we to say no? Yes, and the value I like behind that is a spirit of generosity, but it's not clear who you're generous with. You must be generous with your purpose and you must be generous with the people who fulfill that purpose. and by allowing someone to go off the hook, anything else, you're diluting your purpose, so I'll give an example sometimes when people when clients want to bring in additional people, it's actually very helpful, so I was facilitating a meeting. with a client who was building basically wanted to build a new city and it's like a big meeting and they brought together 12 people from all over the world who are radical thinkers in different ways Bollywood, you know the film director, you know the park planner. a video game designer and they basically wanted, at the last minute, the client wanted to bring you 30 more people from his company and in that case we said yes and we said that because of this project, you are going to have audacity. ideas and in any type of dynamic, you have bold ideas at the beginning and then the lawyers and the advisors come and everything flattens out over time, so in this case we wanted to have as broad a group involved without witnessing these exciting ideas so that They got excited at first and their thinking changed from why it wasn't part of that to how can we do this and such, but we used them very specifically, they weren't allowed to speak and we changed the format in the Meeting Design where the people who were there simply to share their ideas sat in a circle and fishbowl style and then all the listeners sat around them in a huge circle and were not allowed to be on this boat example.
There we were going to address a thread in a discussion on LinkedIn this morning about whether you should come to the meeting if you're not going to participate, what's your opinion on that? I mean, they generally give us an L, yeah, well, in general, you have a vision for that, I think it depends again on your purpose, so I think in general, a great meeting, regardless of the context, is when the Participation is distributed, but not in a forced way, as if people should be there. I usually want to participate in some way. I don't think I was part of the conversation, but perhaps the assumptions behind participation meant talking and there are many ways to dissipate in conversation, it doesn't necessarily have to be talk and therefore in meaning.
As he described, they completely changed the dynamic of the meeting because there were extraordinarily powerful listeners and witnesses sitting in this giant circle, yes, and so they had a very specific role, they accepted their role and in those cases it would not have been appropriate. for them to talk, but they were participating, you had some great examples of stories, you came up, you mentioned earlier the variety of people you talked to, could you talk about that? I would love for you to find out one was Jill Soloway, yes, producer, yes, and her box, yes, the way to approach a meeting gives us that, yes, absolutely, I love the story, so Jill and they happen, use the pronoun day, but she's a showrunner on team II Runner and she went transparent and I love cock and these.
Two types of award-winning Amazon shows and what the show does is at the beginning of each session they bring out Jill or someone else brings out this physical box in that space and all the regular stars, but also all the extras, so again in terms of who you include and who you don't, you could radicalize by including extras, it's a very intimate ritual and they start saying, they start applauding and they do box box box box and then there's like this verbal The interruption people know what's going on and basically during 10 to 40 minutes people get on the box and share what they want to share with the group and it's basically a way of being stopped because they talk too much and they let it go for as long as they want. and on some level, when you give people space to talk, you know that and they do it all the time, so there is a discipline where you know that there are certain communities that have the discipline to come together and they come together beautifully, the Quakers are one of those you know.
Over time, when you start to develop the meeting muscle, you don't have people whoself-correct. Over time, they don't always help correct in the moment, but sometimes you know if there is a person who wants to continue for 25 minutes. I think the community is, that's what that actor needed and what they're doing in the box, so they just watch from their chairs, vent and do their best to talk about a scene that they've messed up a little bit, but the last time they can talk sometimes they talk about you know, death, you know, a friend died, they talk about anything and everything, but it's a way to warm things up and, you know, extras have been interviewed about this process and one of them when they were filming I Love Dick, she worked at a local bank and she was an extra and you know. she, at least I was a reporter, she got very excited when she got on the box and said: this is incredible, I don't even belong here, but this feels like a family and I love this example because it is a type of physical ritual it is authentic to they.
I'm not saying everyone should box, but we can learn from the beginning and it gets everyone present and connected very quickly and embodies for her and Jill the principles of what she is trying to bring out in the scene, so the scenes I'm referring to, Transmuter, is one of the most incredibly authentic, boundary-pushing live shows and I don't think it's necessarily unrelated to the idea that she's the one they start with. This, yes, yes, is a great example. We are answering questions. We are live here on Facebook. Since we work in New York City, we are in Hudson, we located the Hudson Street location.
Until then, we received a question from Hoonah. rope wrote Sorry, what if I get your name wrong? a rat and one says to that point how does that translate a little bit to Oona's question, she says how do you create a meeting culture across the company as part of the reason we're in business instead of just meetings? to share information, yes, meetings for people to control what they are doing, yes, it is a beautiful question and one of the reasons why I think Gathering is so powerful is because it is a form of power and it is also a form of love and caring about people and I don't think a lot of people watching this feel that way about the meetings I didn't agree to my meetings at work.
I love, I hate people, yes, but I didn't love the meeting, I agree and one of the things, if I mean if you want to create a company culture where meetings matter, have meetings that focus on the core problems of the organization, having meetings that focus on operations and the systemic structures and configurations of the meeting, but in terms of leadership, and you know one of the things that leaders should do is model what a good meeting really looks like, so, to me, some of the companies that are really pushing the boundaries are the ones that have transparency, you know, share their numbers with the entire company and have somehow a meeting that models a powerful, authentic conversation about things that They don't know what is going to happen at the meeting. true, then we need to bring risk back into meetings.
Yes, these shouldn't be formal meetings where you're saying everything that happened beforehand and your meeting is kind of a show so people can examine it, but it's also fundamentally saying we don't trust you, we don't feel safe. here, yes, and so to Lunas question about starting to have meetings witnessed by other people where by discussing what you are discussing in front of them, you are also implicitly saying that we trust you, yes, yes, speaking of trust, We talked about a very formative meeting that you participated in when you were at the Harvard Kennedy School, you talked about it being the can meeting, yes, I would love to put this in a setting.
I think so, well we should do it, it was started by a woman named Lisa Lazarus, she was a year above me at the Kennedy School and at the Kennedy School, I think, in a lot of graduate schools or university settings. you walk in and regardless of where you are, it's a very intimidating environment and whenever it's during a conference, when not, most people, when they walk into an intimidating environment, we puff up instead of showing our true selves, we wear these masks or you. Hiding in war exactly if I like peanuts and Lisa decided this is a terrible way to build a community.
She came because of these amazing people, but we were all kind of showing you know our press-ready persona. she started this meeting called can and she'll joke with herself, it's like a terrible name, but it started and it actually relates to your name, your book club which now stands for agents of change and she wanted to change the culture to Anna's question about like us. They interacted with each other in the classroom and in the hallways, so he created this process where groups of six people sign up voluntarily and there was a curriculum based somewhat on Bill George's TrueNorth books and every week or two Weeks we meet for three hours. and we started rotating and taking turns in groups of six, sharing our life stories and our pivotal moments, the moments that made us who we are, which are usually painting moments, yes, and they completely changed the dynamic quite radically because many people I was part of these groups and it was a beautiful experience and Lisa was also a moderator and sustained dialogue at Princeton, which is similar to how I also trained at UVA and I think one of the things that While I interviewed different people for the book, it was it's gathering well as a habit and a practice and I want to destroy the belief or assumption that some people gather well and some people don't, that's true, but I think it's like the movie Ratatouille. everyone can cook I love your movie everyone can get together yes well we crave it and I think maybe as I listen to you talk maybe the reason we keep wanting new commitments is because it's not being done right we don't understand that meaning I think that that's what you're saying, we're listening, as I mentioned, we're here, we work, that it's a company that is shaped in many ways about the way people come together and I see companies creating more and more spaces for people to meet differently.
Sense of Space What are some tips you've learned about how to think about where people gather? Yes, space is very important and one of the things that I learned particularly from the people that I interviewed is the idea of just moving people around so that Again, the idea that one of the problems that you know is routine and autopilot, it's kind of the enemy of meetings anywhere in life where we go and sit in the same chair that you said you know and it's based on hierarchy or comfort. about who has been here long enough and just changing chairs at an Ellucian conference in a moment in a group when yes when when we are stuck the facilitators are actually tenants we will change name cards to physically change people's perspective.
I think it's a task. for everyone wanted to take a change action to just mess up the mess completely and where possible a couple of other tips just physical, you know circles are very powerful there is a great book called The Shape of the Circle this is not new information if If you are a facilitator, you are probably saying that of course the circle is powerful, but even though we know we tend not to accept the setup we are given, as long as it is a table or a place where you enter. a place and the chairs are arranged in the style of a classroom, yes, it changes the configuration, and again we assume that there is a thought related to the way a room is configured, yes, and usually there is not, usually we are in autopilot.
So as much as possible, create environments where you're facing each other, you're literally looking into each other's eyes and that's true for conferences, I mean, whenever I do any kind of meeting, if possible, That drives people to settle down. up the room crazy I'll layer circles just because it completely changes the dynamic because you have to look up and see each other you're also good at taking people to see for themselves and discover while I listen to you talk. I remember one of the mishaps of my meeting at the beginning was that I took a group of engineers to an art museum like, let's be creative, it was a disaster, we didn't really have the right purpose, we hadn't really thought, I mean, how is it achieved? for people to go somewhere and find meaning together why it was a disaster it was a disaster because I think we were just going to be creative so we're in a museum instead of thinking how do we facilitate an experience and translate it into Somehow, A similar group of us took a NASCAR pit crew and they learned all about engine maintenance and those cuts, which was very relevant, but it required thinking yes and I think the learning was that you just can't say: be creative and going to a space didn't do anything for you and I think I love that example because in a way what you did was associate the shape with an idea, so you have creativity in the art museum when you put them together, which I commend you for trying. , I mean by the way I've had many, many disasters, I still have disasters all the time, so part of the reason I wrote this book is to have the courage to keep trying and trying again, so that the fact that you took in the museum, I would say Bravo, what an incredible start and one of the things I would say in terms of engaging people is, to the extent possible, not to set up a meeting in my mind that we have when We think of a gathering because the people in the gathering are in an audience and it is something that, being a form of entertainment, is a very difficult experience to have meaning because then the entertainment has to be extraordinarily moving and then you can do it, but leave it to the Experts in any other situation discover an experience that would take advantage of their way of gathering creativity, so one of the books I love about this is by Tina Seelig, she writes a lot about creativity and how to take advantage of teams.
There's a professor at Stanford and she has this great exercise that I might miss a little bit, but she sends her students out to find out how they can make the most money in an hour and forgive me if this isn't exactly the right example. and she gives everyone a dollar in an envelope and they think: how can we take a dollhouse? Yeah, take a dollar and spin it as far as you can and they go out and they go around and they're trying to figure it out and, long story short, the kids who are the students who make the most money realize that the dollar is actually an entitlement. of restriction and who cares about everything, you can do whatever you want, you don't even need to buy anything to make money, you can be on the street and she likes to sell consulting services to anyone who passes by, but we have this form and she creates and designs these experiences like many great experienced designers do that force us to realize how we engage with our own creativity, yes, and you. you're changing, you're changing people's perspective, their way of thinking to that point, we have a question and I'm sorry, I don't have the name of the person, but ask how your principles apply in virtual meetings.
Yeah, I mean, it's the era of the virtual. meetings, we do this physically, we do this practically, absolutely, what have you learned or what have you found about virtual games? Yes, that is a beautiful question. One is that you can think of them as physical meetings and many of the principles still apply. you know deeply the way you open and the way you close things don't start with logistics they don't end with logistics start with a purpose and start with connecting with your community and end the same way the second is thinking about virtual meetings in a way of how can I feel connected to people even when I can't see them and how can I materialize this experience, how can I embody... how do we do it, for example, if I were to drink this glass of water and I don't watch the live stream on right now, but I would ask everyone else what they're drinking right now and can we all have a sip?
Yes, that was my dream, like drinking some water and exactly, but there are ways you can actually do it. know how to physically toast, another thing is that, if you are in a video conference, everyone comes up to their window and says what is the view of my window right now to remember that we are actually still tactile people, so the last thing I will say that one One of my favorite examples is that I think the movement right after the elections made a call after the Women's March and they had 60,000 people connected to this call and instead of keeping the 60,000 people silent at one point they said We have 60,000 people on this call.
We want you to say hello and took the new button. I love it. They had some kind of big screen. I wasn't on the call, but alreadyYou know, people send me examples of things. and that's a brilliant way of saying look who's here, yeah, that's very clever, so we have a few minutes left and a couple of questions. I want to make sure we go into this from Alex's door and Alex says what's his best advice for when there's a meeting. If the meeting focuses more on why we can't or shouldn't rather than how we could, I think this requires all of your skills as a conflict resolution expert and meeting attendee, yes, how do you get people to do something that do you think they can do?
I won't or I won't, yeah, in a meeting, in a meeting, it's a great question and you know, the question I hear behind the question is how to get people out of their fixed mindset. Yes, it's Carol Dweck. she writes about the type of fixed mindset. mindsets and everything is possible versus another great book, another great book where growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets and you could give them, you know this book or Dan Pink's, you know a whole new mind book, but more simply, you can create some pop-ups . rules and some of the examples in the book that I love is Paul Ladue Sina, he used to be the president of a tyranny and he was having a problem in his board meetings where they were in a big transition in the company. he was in a bit of a crisis and they were trying to, you know, turn the ship around and he told me one of the things that he noticed, the chairman of the board of directors was that people were asking quite a lot, board members were asking questions that they were delaying tactics, his questions were literally trying to keep asking for more information oh yes, that's an important question, right, and everyone likes it, but I don't understand, yes, exactly, and he very wisely realized that it was a tactic dilatory, so for the next meeting he established a rule, he said.
We will send him all the information in advance and ask him all his follow-up questions before the meeting so that he met the need and imposed a rule for that meeting and said if the only questions you can ask are questions that makes us think about a way forward, so he specifically controlled the language and similarly with me there was also a lecture on water. In fact, my brother-in-law Tom Ferguson runs a water incubator in San Francisco and shares this example of a water conference. At the conference there was a dynamic, people were saying: we can't do that, we can't do that, that's impossible, so they tried this rule where they basically said you can't attack an idea, you can't say why it won't work. . unless at the same time you give an example of how it could work and again just change it and just do it for 20 minutes, but there are little modifiable ways that instead of making everyone change their entire way of thinking, just hack the media, what if?
What have you seen? The topic that came up in some of the previous discussions was what if you're not the host of the meeting but you want to have some kind of conversation or you want to have something on all your work days? conflict resolution I'm sure you've seen what advice you would give to people who are stuck in a meeting and feel like yeah, I mean, it's a very different context whether you're at work or with friends because on some level, When you're at work, there are only a few meetings you have to attend, yes, but that being said, you know, this book I wrote is called the art of gathering.
I didn't call it the art of organizing and a meeting is hosts and guests and I like the kind of nod in the book is that you can also do this as a guest, yeah, and then you know a couple of things, one of them, that you know, related to the idea of bringing risk and warmth to the conversation. literally naming what's going on so some of the best meetings I've been to, even if I'm not facilitating or dinners, you know people aren't really connecting and oftentimes someone who's also not the host, you know , this feels a bit. awkward, why don't we try something or in a meeting and say guys, I know this isn't what we were talking about in the hallway, like we were having a real conversation, so let's get back to some of your candor, yeah, candor and the idea of naming perhaps? one is to name it, yeah, so we're running out of time.
I just want to summarize some of the reasons why I recommend it so much. So many useful tips and it's also a thoughtful approach that we came together for a reason. Yes, so you talk. purpose, there's a lot of advice that you put out there, you talk about bringing warmth, which means it's not all about just feeling good and we're all very happy to be here, yes, you talk about being very thoughtful and who you invite, yes, so everyone who is See most people work if they leave this today and go to work tomorrow or Monday.
What are a couple of things you would recommend people do the Bible and why would they do that? And to advance in art. of meeting as you propose, so the first thing I would say, and this may be contradictory, is less meat. I think that's music for eating less meat, who we are, we dilute the power of our meetings because we believe that all the problems we have can be solved. through a meeting, yes, and it shouldn't be like that, if you are exchanging information, send an email, yes, and as you meet less, it actually increases people's enthusiasm, need and desire to meet and maybe Rules are being established that obviously not everyone can follow.
This in a company where you can only be in a meeting twice a day, suddenly I promise you that those meetings will be much more productive, yes, it is absurd to think that some people have to have meetings on Fridays off or something, but you're really you're going back to the previous question one: you're making this more cultural, the way it works, that is, less meatless meat, the second is while you're obsessively focusing on the first five percent of the meeting, The time that swirls when people come in, is actually a time when everyone is sniffing out what is happening here.
Which side can I show? Are we really going there or not? It's fun and host, so leave your live stream, you know, problems or your AV technology. team, the moment someone comes in and starts greeting them and modeling the behavior you want them to see, and the third is before you dive into the business, spend the first three minutes or five percent of the meeting if they have a day complete together or more. that connecting people, one of those studies that I love shows that when surgeons get together as a team and go through a series of checklists, but specifically introduce the entire team ahead of time and people literally talk, the rates Error rates decrease in surgery because when something goes wrong and someone notices it, they are more likely to speak up and surgical teams are very hierarchical, so one of the problems is that someone at the bottom of the hierarchy will see something, but Since they don't feel comfortable, they won.
You don't say anything, and therefore the way you modeled the first five percent of your meeting profoundly affects how people will behave for the next hour. Some great examples give Priya Parker the art of putting together a really great way to think about how you spend your time connecting and working with the people you work with, thanks for joining us, we've been live on Facebook and thanks if Has anyone been experimenting on Instagram, thank you very much and I catch you too. Next time
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