Business Insider

How should you begin a meeting? With silence

Our question today is, “How should you start a meeting?” Our answer is, “With 90 seconds of silence.”

Every meeting has a purpose, or several. Books by the score have been written about how to meet well and purposefully. Facilitators make their living doing nothing else. You already know a lot about this modern skill, and we’ll not be adding anything new here.

But chances are you’ve been in lots of meetings that are at best routine and a waste of time. I have led hundreds and know that they were at times too much about me. (Some professions are mercifully meeting-free, because its practitioners are doing something useful, such as building something.) Would meetings go better if they began in silence?

Dana Doherty Menlove, a Boise executive coach, says even a 90-second pause allows participants to recognize what’s going on in their minds and emotions and to ask themselves, “Why am I here?”

“It allows us to truly be aware during the meeting, in the moment, and, with deliberate intention, let go of what’s past or coming up,” she says. “This can set the tone for deep listening, surely one quality of a good meeting.”

When given 90 seconds, we know our mind will fidget, replay old stories or fuss about the future. Then what? Menlove’s answer is to breathe and pay attention to our bodies. Relax, and our minds may follow.

A recent report tells us that Fortune 500 companies led by women are more profitable than those led by men. Could one reason be that women are better at listening and then collaborating?

It would be pretentious for a meeting leader to announce one day, “We will now begin with a moment of silence.” A 90-second pause should be a shared decision based on an understanding of the science behind this initially modest shift in culture.

Is there a risk? Given what we know about meetings, what have you got to lose — 90 seconds?”

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life. This column appears in the May 17-June 14, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.