During an Upsetting Time, 4 Ways to Make Meetings More Meaningful

Contributing Writer

In our new, socially distant workplaces, it can be difficult to feel the pulse of your team and maintain the culture you’ve built in the office. Meetings, in particular, don’t have the human moments before and after to check in and find out what’s going on in our lives. 

Now more than ever, we’re dealing with an undue amount of stress and pressure. Everyday stresses and pressures are increasingly burdensome and present during COVID-19, and the trauma inflicted on Black and Brown communities by systemic racism and an unjust criminal system causes a significant amount of pain that has been internalized over generations.

The emotional backpacks we all carry around are suddenly more full than usual — dramatically more full, in some cases. If we don’t understand how the people around us are coping with climbing death tolls, videos of horrific murders, and inspiring protests, those emotional backpacks could implode.

The fact is, everyone has something else on their mind other than work — and as horrific images and headlines flash across our screens every day, they may be significantly more present than what’s happening at work. As leaders, it’s critical that we create intentional time to acknowledge those feelings or stressors, so we have the opportunity to connect with ourselves and those around us more meaningfully. When we have the opportunity to identify and name what we’re feeling in a contained, structured way, we can be more present as colleagues, parents, and students.

Beyond virtual meetings, creating moments of acknowledgement between transitions can be applied to everything we do and every time we gather. How do we transition from one thing we were doing or working on — a project, a meeting, an email, a phone call, and in today’s world, fixing a child’s meal or helping them with their homework at home — to then sitting down for a new client pitch?

When we effectively “close” what we were doing or working on before we “open” the next thing, we can book-end our activities and be more present for the task at hand. The following 4 ideas could be used with your staff during meetings and 1:1 check-ins, or with students during virtual class time or conferences:

  1. Monday Motivation: At the opening of your meeting, ask participants to close their eyes and reflect back on their weekend. Ask them to call to mind one positive memory and focus on how they felt in that moment. If possible, have participants share their feeling word and/or positive memory. At the close of the meeting, ask participants to share an intention for how they plan to carry that positive feeling with them throughout the week.
  2. “Some Good News”: Most of the country has seen an episode of John Krasinski’s Some Good News Show on social media; use this as inspiration to share moments of good news in your day. Ask each participant to come prepared to share one piece of good news, whether that be something they heard on an actual news broadcast or a small win in their personal life. At the close of the meeting, ask participants to share one way they intend to spread good news to others. Bonus points for sharing your good news in your best news anchor voice.
  3. Circle of Trust: At Move This World, the Circle of Trust is an opportunity to quickly check in on how those around us are feeling and try on the feelings of others so we can use this information as we work through our conversations with one another. In order to facilitate virtually, have participants state an emotion word that best describes how they are currently feeling accompanied by a movement, sound or facial expression that matches that feeling word for them. Then have the rest of the participants imitate the movement, sound or facial expression. At the close of the meeting, check back in with participants. How are they feeling now?
  4. Intentional Breathing: Simply opening and closing a meeting with a few deep breaths can relieve stress and help you sink into the present moment. During a particular stressful day or meeting, having participants make a sound to release the stress they are carrying as they exhale can be helpful. 

COVID-19 has illuminated the crossroads we are in as a society – the need for pause, to be more present and engaged in what we’re doing, to give ourselves space to process and show up fully.

Workplaces will benefit from meaningful transitions, openings and closings, during remote work and when we’re back in person.

Sara Potler LaHayne (@sara_lahayne) is Founder and CEO of Move This World, a social-emotional learning program supporting students.

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