Listening for Echos
How do you deal with echoes when you’re facilitating? No, not the staticky feedback echoes. (If only the answer were as easy as, “Can everyone please mute?”) These are instead the sticky, murky echoes from past meetings, the ghosts of the unresolved meetings that came before.
Very rarely is a meeting starting a conversation from scratch. In most situations, a similar process or meeting has already happened before you’ve stepped on the scene. People might feel like they’ve been there, done that, and maybe even got the t-shirt 👕 And for better or for worse, that means there’s history to deal with.
History can be good because there’s already traction on the topic and familiarity amongst the meeting participants. ☝️ However, there’s a flip side: you might be entering a situation where you don’t have the full picture. If an organisation has tried to do similar things in the past, there’s a history which you might not be privy to. This can make it hard to figure out how to adapt to a meeting, and it might affect how people show up to the conversation you’re facilitating.
👂 So, what can we do? Listen for the echoes of meetings past.
These echoes usually come in one of three forms:
1️⃣ The Traction Debt Echo
This might sound like: Why are we having this conversation about where we want to be in three years again when really we just need budget for the next quarter and clear roles so that we can complete what needs to be done now?
Odds are good that this exact conversation has happened before, and people are tired of it. You might be facing a feeling of consultation fatigue, which often happens when blue sky conversations have a history of not leading to actionable outcomes. This is a traction debt, and in this situation, you may find yourself repeating a conversation that team members assume won’t go anywhere.
2️⃣ The Spinning Wheel Echo
This might sound like: We tried that before, so why are we trying again?
You might be in a situation where this process has been attempted before and failed, and so people feel stuck on a spinning wheel of repetition that goes nowhere. If you’re trying to involve frustrated or apathetic team members in a process they feel like they’ve tried before and it’s failed to come to fruition, you may have lost some of the group before you’ve started. You’ll need to listen closely to pull some participants back from the brink.
3️⃣ The Lightening Rod Echo
This might sound like: [Awkward silence while people avoid a topic or wait for a reaction.]
Are there people within the organisation who will react in a very predictable way to this kind of conversation? Is everyone anticipating that? This individual or group might not intentionally intend to undermine the process, but it’s unlikely they’ll invest the energy and good faith needed.
No matter the specific type of echo, the key point is that people bring baggage with them from past experiences into your meetings. 🧳
Importantly, this baggage isn’t always bad! There might be examples where your topic has already been covered well. In this (lovely, but sadly rare) case, you can anchor into a process which already exists or refer back it. And, if you’re able to identify an ally in the group who facilitated that process successfully before, then you can learn from them. But good or bad, you ignore the baggage at your own peril.
👻 So next time you find yourself wading through uncertain history, stop and listen for the ghosts of meetings past. Spotting the echoes early can change how you direct the conversation. Rather than treading in unproductive waters, you can instead spend time at the beginning of the meeting listening to participants and reframing the objectives. The result? A meeting that meets its objectives and may even quiet echoes in the future, too. Win win.
I’m guessing you’re here because you want to get better at leading groups, improve your meeting culture, and maybe even organise some great events.
Well, you’re in the right place!
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