The Psychology of Meetings – How to Read your Audience

This browser doesn't support WebRTC so you won't be able to use Computer Audio to join a conference call.
Please use a browser that supports WebRTC such as either Chrome, Firefox or Opera.
psychology meeting

Meetings are a dime a dozen, but it’s not often realised that there’s a lot more being said than what’s actually being said. To host a successful meeting, a person needs the necessary skills to understand each participant and why they are or aren’t actively engaged or participating. There’s a lot going on in a meeting that you may not be aware of, from a manner of speaking to body language. We’re going to examine how to read your audience and the psychology of meetings so you can undertake intuitive meetings.

What’s the Point of this Meeting?

An opportunity to collaborate, or an opportunity to grandstand? You can utilise a meeting when sharing a vision, or as a democratic means of idea generating and problem solving. Then there’s those who dismiss meetings as a diffusion of responsibility, a share the blame if things don’t work out. They see a person in a position of power simply exercising their power by organising a meeting.

The fact is we’re complicated beings and meetings are affecting us in different ways. Attending a meeting has a huge impact on your frame of mind even before you enter the room. This is the rarely considered psychology of meetings.

It’s understood that people who create work goals for themselves are unhappy in a position that requires a lot of meetings. They consider it counterproductive and would rather work on their own initiative. The exact opposite is also true, where those without any work goals enjoy meetings as they add structure to an otherwise unstructured day. If you are happy with a certain employee’s work and that they don’t need to attend a meeting, let them know that it is up to them to attend.

Keep Everyone Informed

It’s best to let people know in advance what your meeting is about. Inform them why you’re asking them to attend. Your team will feel secure and confident in the knowledge they belong, they’re more inclined to participate in deeper engagement. When junior colleagues attend your meeting, they may feel intimidated when someone of a higher social status is making decisions. This is why selecting your attendees with due diligence and informing them why they’re there is vital to a productive meeting.

Tell your colleagues that they do not have to attend every meeting they’re invited to. People often complain about the amount meetings they have to attend, but to be seen in meetings is still viewed as a status symbol. Those in mid-level or executive positions may feel unrecognised if they are not invited to each meeting. Some people will feel the need to attend every meeting they’re invited to, just to demonstrate how important they are. For many, the psychology of meetings centres around demonstrating power and authority over others. Keep this in mind during your meeting.

The Psychology of Meetings

Once the meeting begins, provide opportunities for self-discovery among your team. Check out our blog on how to execute the perfect decision making meeting. Here are some handy tips to ensure you make the most of your meeting:

  • Remember, this isn’t school – encourage discussions among colleagues. Often when you see two people whispering to each other in your proximity, the paranoid side of you comes out. Don’t assume they’re criticising the meeting or plotting your demise. Letting your team engage in short, side conversations serves to build consensus and validate ideas. 
  • Let everyone speak out in equal measure – Don’t let any one person dominate the discussion. People will often speak out of turn for their own self-validation. If you notice this, quickly direct the discussion elsewhere. If someone isn’t speaking out or contributing, direct a question their way or ask them what they think or how they feel about a certain idea.
  • Be sure not to lecture, good meetings are usually collaborations – Actively listen and engage with what’s being said, and what’s not being said. Your team’s knowledge is undoubtedly extensive but their patience may not be. Create an agenda or a format and stick to it.
  • It’s vital to uphold good morale throughout the meeting – If there is any bad news, it’s best to open with it and get it out of the way quickly. Try to keep things positive and avoid any negative discussions. Jokes can lighten a mood but try keep them to a minimum, they may add inappropriate levity to situations that require seriousness.
  • Provide refreshments for your team. Even if they do not take anything, having the option has a positive effect on those in the room.

What isn’t Being Said?

There’s usually a lot more going on in a meeting than what’s actually being said. The psychology of meetings includes body language, reactions to certain topics, and even the seating arrangement. There are certain gestures you should avoid, check out our blog on what gestures to avoid during a meeting and conference call. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Eye contact – A lack of eye contact usually indicates a level of discomfort or unease. Make note of this if it happens, a have a discussion with your colleague later about any potential unease. Never direct these issues during a meeting as it only worsens the situation and distracts from your agenda.
  • Posture and fidgeting during meetings – These are often indicators of an employee’s unease, boredom, or frustration. Ask them to share their opinions or ask them some simpler questions to instil confidence and encourage engagement.
  • Yawning – When a person is facing a tedious task they can often find themselves overcome with tiredness. Desmond Morris, an evolutionary psychologist, acknowledged this when he reported on soldiers feeling an overwhelming urge to sleep once informed an attack was imminent.
  • Where a person sits – This often has an effect on an employee’s input to a meeting. Sitting across from someone often implies competition or even antagonism. You can achieve cooperation through your physical proximity to one another or simply by sitting beside one another. Rearrange your seating arrangement to maximise any cooperation.

What to Take Away

Keep these rules and principles in mind when you organise your next meeting. Listen to what’s being said and get a feel for what’s not being said. Liaise with your team after the meeting. Send an email with the summary of the meeting. Ask them how they feel it went and what you could be doing to improve things in future. You can translate a lot of these rules over to conference calls via audio and video. There are many social faux pas frequently encountered during conference calls. Check out our blog on accidentally disrupting a conference call! 



Leave a Reply