There are three types of verbal behaviour that you can use in a meeting. You can put forward new ideas; you can ensure that what is said is clear and understood by everyone; and you can give support to, or disagree with, things that are said. The balance of these three behaviours determines how effective a meeting is and whether it achieves its purpose.

When you show verbal agreement or disagreement with what others say you are using a reacting behaviour. I agree with what Jane said, or That’s a good idea, are statements of support and agreement.  Disagreement sounds like; I don’t think that will work; I can’t accept that; or, I don’t think these figures are correct.

Use of reacting behaviours in meetings lets others know where you stand. If you are reluctant to speak your mind or commit yourself to a view or a decision, you will tend not to react. Sometimes people hold back on reacting until they see how others react. Low reacting may reflect a lack of trust or lack of information on which to base decisions. It may also reflect the fact that people at a meeting do not have responsibility for the issues being discussed or the decisions that have to be made.

Meetings with little reacting behaviour feel awkward and seem to have no energy as people hold back on their opinions. They can be very difficult to chair. People who have proposals to put forward may tend to go into too much detail in their efforts to gain a reaction. Others tend to shut down, infected by the generally low reaction level.

High levels of disagreement in a meeting do not necessarily mean that it is destructive, so long as people disagree on issues, and do not attack each other at a personal level. Meetings in which contentious proposals are put on the table are likely to contain a lot of reacting behaviour but can be stimulating and constructive when people become fully engaged in the discussion. Meetings with too much reacting however, can become emotional and lose focus when people take sides, or when they react before they understand exactly what has been said.

A skilled chairperson is able to manage how people react in a meeting to maintain its energy level, to make sure that everyone’s opinion is heard, and to be sure that people understand exactly what has been said before they react, either positively or negatively.

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