The science of meeting dynamics and how to influence themby
The term ‘team meeting’ conjures different emotions in each of us but you can increase your influence in team meetings if you understand how human brains subconsciously conduct status rankings.
When people form a group, they look for a way to organise themselves. The process, described by Status Characteristics Theory, is a kind of status ranking through which team members develop a mostly unspoken consensus about who should be in charge. It may be conscious but is often unconscious and occurs whether or not participants are aware it is happening. You may be surprised to learn there is a high degree of commonality in terms of the relative rank people silently assign to each other. Perceived status rankings are also fairly consistent across cultures.
Breaking it down
The outcome of the ranking process has a profound effect on who wields influence in the group and who does not. The higher the commonly perceived status of a given attendee, the more the group will allow that person to speak. Higher status members are also addressed more often, looked at more often, and are less likely to be interrupted by other group members.
More attractive people or above average height tend to be accorded more status, as may an extroverted person who seems to be confident
Further, the larger the group, the more unequal relative participation in the team’s discussion will be. In a three-person group, the individual with the highest status will control about 47% of the group’s time, the second, about 30%, and the third, about 23%. As the group gets larger, the highest status individual will continue to control around half of the conversation, with the remaining 50% split between everyone else. Hence, in a group consisting of eight or more people, there will be some members who hardly contribute, if at all.
A challenge for both leaders and participants
All in all, these dynamics present a significant challenge for both team leaders and meeting participants. Leaders are unlikely to hear input from some people because of existing dynamics. Those patterns have mostly been established by default and unconscious processes that are holding people back for social reasons rather than business reasons.
On the other hand, team members attend the meeting with a differential sense of visibility. When a person has low expectations that he or she will be addressed or listened to, that person is less likely to attempt to engage or to have prepared for the topics under discussion.
Several factors affect relative status. As you would expect in the workplace, job seniority is heavily influential. Like many social situations, physical appearance and personality type affect how a person’s status is judged. For example, more attractive people or above average height tend to be accorded more status, as may an extroverted person who seems to be confident. However, relative status can also be affected by factors that are within your control. There are active steps you can take to challenge established status dynamics and increase your influence in a meeting group.
Stop thinking of yourself in terms of the labels that most easily come to mind, and instead think of labels that are both status-invoking and true
Increasing your influence for meeting attendees
You may not walk into a meeting with a job title that indicates authority, or a physical appearance that communicates high status, but you can increase your perceived status through contextual factors. One important step is to stop thinking of yourself in terms of the labels that most easily come to mind, and instead think of labels that are both status-invoking and true.
Even if you are the most junior person in the room, you can increase your relative status and hence your level of influence if you can tap into one or more of these contextual status factors:
- Quantified expertise in the topic of discussion, such as a relevant qualification
- Past achievement of good results in a situation similar to that facing the team
- Relevant experience, particularly if linked to a well-known brand or person
- Speaking up with confidence on a given topic which is often interpreted as competence
Contextual status factors have the power to increase one’s relative status and thus influence, provided they are relevant to the topic at hand, and the group is made aware of them.
People’s relative status within a group has a significant impact on their ability to contribute
Increasing your influence for team leaders
If you are the team leader you are in the best position to intentionally disrupt established dynamics. In doing so, you have a potent opportunity to win greater loyalty and support from team members who are on the fringe. The stronger the sense of affiliation you generate in those you lead, the more you will beneficially influence their behaviour towards you and the things you ask them to do.
Here is a challenge for your next team meeting:
- Identify the member of the team who has had the least to say in past meetings. Approach him or her one-on-one in advance and remind that individual they are valued
- Ask them to contribute on a specific topic or issue that will highlight their expertise or experience
- Set the person up for success. The goal is for this individual to have a positive experience when contributing at the next meeting
- Defend the time and ensure this person can speak without interruption
Provided that your efforts to defend this team member’s speaking time are clear and noticeable to the group, they can influence other attendees to pay attention.
People’s relative status within a group has a significant impact on their ability to contribute. If you are in a position of leadership, then having the humility and self-awareness to work on changing these patterns can result in a wider variety of valuable ideas for you and your team.
Working with Influence: Nine Principles of Persuasion for Accelerating Your Career by Dr Amanda Nimon-Peters is available on Amazon.