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How to Stay Centered During Difficult Meetings

Miles has a tough meeting at 2pm. It’s tough because his department has missed its Q1 target by 30%. And it doesn’t appear next quarter will be much better. Miles knows that the targets set by his boss late last year were based on a mix of faulty assumptions and borderline delusional optimism – and his boss has confirmed this. But now Miles and his team are paying the price by way of constant failure and lost bonuses. At 2pm, Miles has to convince his boss to reforecast. The thing is, he can’t shake the idea that not hitting the unrealistic targets makes him a bad person. He was raised to take responsibility for his outcomes and even though he didn’t set the targets, nor make any promises that he could hit them, he can’t help but feel like he’s in the wrong. He’s worried that the moment his boss pushes back on his request, that he’ll give in immediately and slink away to deliver the bad news to his team.

Michelle also has a tough meeting at 2pm. One of her employees hasn’t been performing well. This isn’t a new problem, and past attempts to address it have resulted in the employee dissolving into tears and vowing to do better. And yet, she didn’t. In the meeting, Michelle wants to make it clear that this is the last time they’ll be having this conversation. Deep down she knows that she should terminate the employee, but she’s having trouble admitting it. The flood of tears last time left Michelle shaken. She remembers her mother using tears to manipulate her and her siblings when she was growing up. She’s dreading something similar happening this time and fears she’ll be stuck with the poor performer indefinitely.

Both Miles and Michelle are predicting that there will be a moment in their difficult meetings when they become emotionally hooked. Miles is afraid of being seen as a bad person. Michelle is afraid of being manipulated. Both of them are afraid of how they will react and what they will do if and when their predictions come true.

We all have our stuff. And we bring it to work.

No one likes difficult meetings. But there is a way to make them a little more comfortable. And it couldn’t be easier.

The moment you feel the emotional reaction that comes with being hooked (rising adrenaline, rapid heartbeat, flushed face, shaky voice, legs or hands), bring your awareness down into your feet.

Just feel your feet on the ground. This is called grounding. It works because it takes you out of your thinky-thinky-ever-predicting-noggin and into your body. Suddenly, you’re present. You’re in the room. Your attention is no longer on the feeling of being hooked, it’s on whatever is actually happening around you in this moment.

Next, feel the energy in your hands. That’s your aliveness.

Here you are in the present. You’re not in front of your mother, or father, or middle school bully. You’re here. In this meeting. And you have agency, experience and wisdom enough to manage the situation you’re in.

Take a deep breath. And another. On the third breath, release all thoughts, just for a few seconds.

You’re centered. Good.

Now respond.

P.S. If you like this tool, you may also want to take the time to center yourself before the meeting. Here’s an 8-minute video to help you do that.

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