Dear Meeting Guru,

"I am a new subscriber. My meeting dilemma is this: Our business is dependent on consistently growing our sales. At the same time we are very attentive to the possibility of bad debt. We therefore have what looks to be diametrically opposed goals for the sales department and the accounts receivable department. This often has led to confrontation and argumentative relationships between the two areas. Our desire is to have a meeting where the two departments can first understand that there can appear to be different goals for each but, in fact, there is only one overriding goal and that is the attainment of the company's mission. I would like to have a better understanding of the techniques to facilitate such a meeting from how the agenda is best structured to the method of conducting the meeting and how to maintain focus and control."


Blessed Meeter,

Dealing with opposing views is never easy. If you’re leading a meeting that is likely to be confrontational, you’ll have to take this into account during the initial planning stage.

First, be very clear as to the purpose of the meeting. Before your meeting, set goals and decide upon the specific objective. Have a list of agenda items that need to be discussed, and identify the desired outcome for each. For example, a section of your meeting agenda might look something like this:

Agenda Item: Discuss the sales budget for the upcoming quarter

Define a definite budget and allocate it across sales activities
Agenda Item: Discuss company goals and objectives for the upcoming year

Define a set of measurable goals for the sales department to have achieved in the next year. Have accounting allocate a budget to achieve each one of those goals.

If your discussion isn’t structured, it’s more likely to disintegrate into petty bickering. Attempting to reach a clearly defined objective will create a sense of unity between opposing groups, which is really the underlying purpose of your meeting.

When you send the invitations to the meeting, ask attendees if they have any agenda item requests. If participants are able to contribute to the meeting agenda, they’re less likely to feel resentful coming into the meeting. Once you’ve compiled the agenda, make sure everyone has access to it before the meeting. If participants come into the meeting with a better understanding of the objectives, it will help everyone understand their colleagues’ motivations, before things become confrontational.

Carefully consider who should be attending the meeting. Only invite those whose attendance is absolutely necessary. The fewer people involved, the easier it is for everyone to have their say, and the easier it is for the facilitator to keep things on track.

During the meeting, make sure you involve as many people as possible. Ask quiet attendees for their opinions, call on a variety of people, and don't allow nonstop talkers to monopolize the discussion. You might find that it’s only a few vocal individuals who are argumentative. If their involvement is limited, things may run a lot smoother.

As the meeting leader, it's also your responsibility to keep things on track. This means steering the meeting discussion in a way that fulfills the meeting objectives. If you have difficult personalities in the room or opposing views, this can be challenging! Try using sentences such as, "That's a valid point, but doesn't directly apply to this discussion. Perhaps we should schedule a separate meeting to address it fully." Or, "It's obvious there are some opposing views surrounding this issue. Perhaps our time would be best spent working towards a compromise. Any suggestions?" If a meeting becomes particularly heated, it's best to address what's possible in the meeting but consider hiring a professional facilitator for the next meeting – a neutral leader who's trained to deal with high-pressure, high-conflict meetings.

Make sure you develop action items for issues that need follow-up. Assign a particular individual or group to complete each action item. A deadline and priority level should also be assigned for the action items. If attendees see that there is a concrete result to their meeting, they will be more open to further discussion.

And finally, at the end of the meeting, make sure you review the meeting process. Take a few moments to discuss what the group did well during the meeting and which areas need improving. Letting everyone have their say will go a long way in reducing some of the disharmony between your groups.

I hope this has given you a base on which to plan your meeting. The most important thing is to emphasize that both groups have a shared goal – they just have different ways of attaining it! Make sure everyone is working towards their own specific objectives – that way they will be less concerned with what the other group is doing, and more focused on the benefits for the entire organization. As the wise philosopher Confucius once said, "If one learns from others but does not think, one will be bewildered. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn from others, one will be in peril."

Until next time… may good meeting karma always be with you.



Read meeting dilemmas solved by the Meeting Guru.




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