We sit in meetings all the time and complain most of the time. According to research, an average team meeting includes 69 counteractive statements and only 17 proactive statements. That is a 4:1 ratio of bad to good in meetings! We know we can make it better, but we are not exactly sure how. Newly published research reveals that procedural communication is the key.
The Journal of Applied Communication Research recently published, “A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings” by researchers Lehmann-Willenbrock, Allen, and Kauffeld. Unless you are a communication scholar, you probably don’t want to wade through the hypothesis and methods of the research, so I will pull out the gems for you. First, let me share their definition of procedural communication.
Procedural behaviors in team meetings are statements that point out or lead back to the topic, clarify to ensure contributions are to the point, pose questions or suggestions on procedure, reference time, delegate tasks, visualize process, and summarize results. Another way to look at it is that procedural communication is the meta communication that controls the meeting.
This research study of 59 teams found that procedural communication promotes supportive statements and proactive communication, reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, and increases meeting satisfaction (if many people in the meeting are contributing to the procedural communication). Simply put, if everyone in the meeting helps move the meeting along towards it’s stated goal, then that goal is more likely to be reached and participants will be happy. Here are the details:
More Supportive Statements
The study found that procedural statements are often followed by supporting statements from others in the meeting. For example, if one meeting participant makes a clarifying statement, such as “So essentially you are saying that . . .”, then others in the meeting respond in a positive manner.
More Proactive Communication – who will do what and when
Procedural communication also promotes proactive communication, or talk about who will do what and when. For example, if a participant makes a time reference such as, “And we should come to a decision, we only have five minutes left.” then other participants respond with what should be done and who should do it.
Less Complaining, Criticizing, and Losing Track
Those are two examples on the positive side, but procedural communication also reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, such as complaining, criticizing, and losing train of thought. For example, after a goal orientation statement, such as “All right, back to the topic.” it is unlikely that the group will lose train of thought in the meeting. If a participant makes a procedural suggestion, such as “Let’s talk about . . . first.” it is unlikely another group member will complain or criticize. In this study, all types of procedural communication had an influence in reducing bad behaviors.
People report being more satisfied with meetings when procedural communication is shared by meeting participants. This is important. It doesn’t work to have one bossy person who is telling everyone what to do and keeping track of time. The responsibility of the meta communication needs to be shared across the group. “ . . .the distribution of procedural behaviors across members of a meeting is an important factor for promoting meeting satisfaction.”
Make a change. If you are a manager, encourage all meeting participants to help guide the process of the meeting in addition to contributing content. If you are a participant, speak up. Make a goal-oriented, clarifying, prioritizing, time management, or task distribution comment. Not only are others in the meeting likely to respond in a positive manner and complain less, but they will leave the meeting feeling more satisfied.
Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Allen, J.A. & Kauffeld, S. (2013). A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41, 365-388