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6 Phrases To Keep Meetings On Track

Fostering focused conversations in the workplace


🤷‍♂️ "Wait ... what is this meeting about, again?"

How many meetings have you been in where you've heard or thought that particular question?

Often it comes from a lack of clear goals or structure for the meeting. That said, even when the meeting owner has done a diligent job of creating those things, the meeting's focus can easily veer off into a ditch somewhere.

How do you respond when someone (intentionally or otherwise) derails the conversation? One of the more difficult facilitation skills involves keeping a conversation focused and productive without imposing a tyrannical atmosphere.

There are two things that experienced facilitators do in response to potential derailings...


They neutrally observe and accept the surrounding reality, often giving voice to what they perceive.


They ask a coaching question that nudges participants to work together and create a more principled, focused version of the discussion.

You don't have to be a facilitator to leverage this approach, though.

Here are six situations you might find yourself in at work and some potential responses using the observe-and-question approach.

1. People keep jumping into the weeds to find specific cases where you're wrong.

I'm noticing that you have specific examples in mind where my idea may not work. Before we explore those, can we make sure we have a common understanding of the idea?

2. People seem reticent to join you at your level of detail, preferring to remain detached at the satellite level.

My sense is that we can't really assess this idea fairly without considering it in a little more detail. I'd like to do that now but I want to make sure we agree that this is the time to do it. If not, when would be a good time?

3. People are racing ahead to the 'what' / 'how' without a solid grounding in the 'why'.

It's really important that we understand our execution plan but I wondered whether we could pause for a second and check we're aligned on the fundamentals. Do we have a clear picture of why we're proposing to do this?

4. People are stuck in the 'why' because it's easier to stay there than explore the 'what' / 'how'.

My view is that we discussed the fundamentals of this idea in reasonable detail and aligned on why it was worth doing. I'd like to spend some time now exploring the implications. Do you feel that we have enough of a common understanding of the 'why' to do so?

5. You feel you're being given a 'pleasant' brush-off - an empty complement in lieu of actual engagement.

That's nice of you to say. It's really valuable to me to have everyone's feedback on this idea. What's one thing you would improve about it if you could?

6. You're told that your idea is basically immaterial because there "isn't time to do it right now".

I agree we've got a lot on our plate and that's forcing us to focus on the things that are right in front of us. That said, do we have to be able to do it "right now" in order to make discussing it worthwhile?

We'd love to hear your conversation derailment challenges and provide support. You might be interested in our Presence & Influence workshop where we provide a heap of practical tools like this one.