I have always be keen on the phrase “consensus ad idem”. The phrase itself just rolls off the tongue. However, it is in the meaning that my fondness lies. The image of separate people understanding each other to the extent that the minds meet.
If the reality were only that simple! The task of conveying a message so clearly that the other person understands it exactly as you intended is what many of us aspire to and spend much of our career trying to achieve but never do.
The workplace has long been recognised by scientific management theorists as satisfying an essential social need in people. A chap by the name of Maslow theorised that once a person has protected himself and his family, put a roof over their heads and food on the table, the next need he will focus on is his social need. Examples of social needs at a basic level are a need for belonging, for friendships, to love and be loved. Just to demonstrate how high up this need is, once it is satisfied, there are only two more needs left – esteem (self respect, achievement, attention, recognition and reputation) and then finally self actualization (reaching one’s potential as a person). Maslow stated that in general, an individual won’t move on to satisfy the next need until the previous need has been satisified.
When we arrive at a meeting (assuming we have a roof over our heads and food in our stomach) the next thing we need to satisfy is how we relate to others in a social manner. Unless of course that need has already been satisfied. This is obviously all scientific management talk but it does bear thinking about. The next time you take the trouble to organise a meeting well, meaning that you:-
1. clearly defined the purpose of the meeting
2. selected the right attendees
3. provided the correct reading material
4. established and executed the correct precursors to the meeting
5. arranged for the right people to be taking appropriate notes
6. booked the right meeting room and have everybody arrive on time
You’ve gone to all this effort and yet you still can’t seem to get the right focus in the meeting. Individuals are still wandering off track, seemingly spouting words without considering the topic or their colleagues comprehension and the distractions continue with any number of other socially-based meanderings. Maybe you should consider that the social needs of the attendees have not been met. This is a whole other science and out of my scope of knowledge. However, there are steps you could take to minimize this:-
1. Arrange for meetings to be held shortly after lunch (social needs have hopefully been met by this time of day)
2. Set aside an amount of time prior to a longer meeting for socialising to take place
3. At longer meetings, ensure regular breaks take place and attendees get the chance to chat around the cookie and coffee/tea table
4. If time permits, set aside some time after the meeting for socialising (an incentive for wrapping up the meeting on time)
We can achieve a Meeting of Minds with others, while still disagreeing with their comments, positions and proposals. In order for this to happen it is often of benefit to minimise the social aspect, allowing us to focus on what is actually being said in order to gain a true and unbiased understanding.