Staying focused at meetings sounds like it should be easy but in my experience getting sidetracked is easier. Sometimes casual conversation gets things off track but I think the most common cause is one party or the other bringing up a past incident or trying to convince the group about something. At this point the meeting has the potential to turn into a power struggle causing the group to forget who they are there for. Sometimes the situation can be turned around by acknowledging what the person is saying and relating it back to the present situation.
A few years ago I attended a meeting with a parent who had pulled her son from school because of an incident she felt was mishandled. We were meeting with two teachers and the Special Education Director. At her request the two administrators she was angry at were not there This Mom kept rehashing the incident. We’d get back to the discussion regarding options to get her son back in school and before we knew it she was explaining how she thought things should have been handled. The school staff was not having any success with keeping us on track. I had several pre-meeting phone conversations with this parent and I was pretty certain she was comfortable with me. I leaned towards her and lightly touched her shoulder. When she looked at me I said, “We all understand why you are upset but the people who you are upset with aren’t here. We can’t do anything about what happened but these teachers want to help. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get your son’s schedule set up to get him back to school.” Thankfully that made sense to her and over the next half hour we accomplished what we’d come for.
I got a phone message from her the following week saying her son was back in school and things were fine so far. I think acknowledging a person’s feelings can help them focus. Until that happens the opinions and or emotions just keep swirling around in their head preventing anything else from getting through.
Of course, as I relate these positive stories of past experiences, I have as many that did not go well. There are a lot of obstacles out there to communicating and connecting well. So I'll close with this quote:
Courage does not always roar.Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." ~Mary Ann Radmacher