How to Strategize Important Meetings

One of my most memorable master’s degree classes was instructed by a retired corporate executive. He taught his students to plan meetings so they turn out successfully for your leadership goals and to avoid unanticipated detours. I have used these skills throughout my real estate career.

We all have important meetings that sometimes do not turn out as we desire. That might be a large meeting or one with only a few attendees.  Most athletes visualize how they will play a game, and SEAL Teams rehearse every minute detail of all missions. We may not be an athlete or a SEAL, but our meetings can be more successful with a strategy. We should learn to not just show up at a meeting and expect it to go smoothly.

Meetings always have different “Players” in attendance.  All types of “Players” could typically be in attendance or just a few types, but you need to identify in advance the different “Players” that might be in the room. If you are the one who conducts a meeting planning could help you accomplish your desired result.

  1. Set a detailed objective for the meeting and what needs to be accomplished. Mentally think through all the attendees and what role each has in decision-making:
    1. A Player(s): These are individuals who can be counted on to agree with your objective and will support your efforts.
    2. B Player(s): These individuals may not be opponents but still need to be sold and convinced.
    3. C Player(s): These people will probably work against you and try to convince others of a different goal or decision.
    4. D Players(s): These are lawyers, CPAs, or family members. They’re non-principals and usually are associates of C Players.
    5. E Player(s): These are individuals who are disrupters. They have no real stake in the objective but just have a need to talk. Sometimes they extend a simple meeting and confuse, or they inject other topics not relevant for this time.
  2. Your first task, if possible, is to try to encourage or dictate seating at the meeting. If you are the Executive or Leader of the meeting, that makes this easier. If not, then you can still suggest seating arrangements to exert some influence over each type of

Examples of actions meeting leaders can take include these:

  1. If you have some C Players, try as the leader to sit as close to them as possible.The chair next to you is best, but never allow your opposition to sit at the other end of a large table. Try not to allow the opposing C Players to all sit together in a group away from you as the leader. You will diffuse most aggressive behaviors by being next to your opposition and splitting the C Players up.
  2. Encourage the A Players to sit away from you, and privately urge them to speak up in support. Also encourage them to find a C Player to sit beside.
  3. Try to position the A Players near the B Players so they can help convince them. Here again, if an A Player is sitting next to a C Player, the temperature of the opposition will be somewhat diffused.
  4. Try to not let D Player(s) such as a lawyer or CPA sit between you and their client. The D Players are usually there because they want to help the C Player(s). If you allow the lawyer or CPA to hold a closer position to you as leader than their client, it usually means that they will dominate all conversation and not allow you to have direct conversation with their client. Try to avoid this! Compromise and agreement moves more easily with direct close communication.
  5. Usually, when there is a critical topic, E Players keep quiet and cause very little problem. E Players are more of a problem in quick meetings with lack of focus, where most want the meeting just to end on schedule. Sometimes just sitting an E Player next to you is enough to tone them down. They possibly are just slightly uncertain of their position of influence and need to get noticed or feel important. Just plan to not have them sit at end of your table or together with other E Players to dominate. Personal reinforcement in private before the meeting or regularly in communication may solve their insecurities.

Let me describe a few real-world examples where my preplanning was successful.

#1: When I was in the Air Force, my friend, Gene, was a 2nd Lt. who attended his officer meetings every week. He would come back deflated because the Colonel always found a way to verbally degrade him, even though he tried not to be noticed by sitting at the other end of the table in the staff conference room. I had just taken this class and suggested that the next week he should arrive early and sit down in the chair next to the Colonel. He experienced that the Colonel never said anything bad about him when he was sitting next to him.

#2: I had sold a property, and by closing time both Buyer and Seller were very angry at each other.   I learned the Seller was bringing his lawyer and the Buyer planned to attend alone.  My agency responsibility was to my Seller but I needed to be the mediator.   I asked an associate to come to the meeting as the Buyer’s friend and sit beside him at the meeting.  I sat at the head of the table with my Seller on my right and the Buyer on my left.  The Seller had his attorney to his right and the Buyer now had my associate on his left. The room was now balanced, and I could assume the role as mediator.  I told my associate that if the lawyer talked, then he should comment to give the Buyer some support, but he should not say anything to inflame a disagreement.  We navigated that closing successfully, and it might not have happened if we had not strategically planned the seating arrangement.

#3:  Sometimes your preplanning requires some advance conversations.  I once listed a property owned by a partnership.  One individual, Emerald, owned 50% and ten others owned 50%.  Even though I was hired by Emerald I was really working for all partners as Sellers. The property had major problems in a bad market and I only found one possible buyer that made a reasonable, but much lower, offer than all had hoped. I soon learned the big roadblock was that all 10 minority partners hated Emerald and at closing Emerald would receive $40,000 cash as reimbursement for bills he had paid on their behalf.   All other partners had to each inject $10,000 at closing.  This was a big issue intensified by their animosity toward Emerald.

Emerald and I had an open counseling relationship, and we needed to address this animosity directly or the sale could not close. I identified the most vocal partner that the 10 partners might follow. I met with him privately and suggested that we had no alternative but to try and close this transaction. The partners were each personally signed on a loan, so if the sale did not close, the lender could collect a $50,000 deficiency from each of the 10 partners vs. a $10,000 injection at closing. I was able to convince him to be vocal and endorse the necessary sale as the best of two bad situations for each partner.

I also met with Emerald and was honest with him. I reminded him that I had to be looking out for all sellers/owners. I knew Emerald would bring two legal representatives to the meeting. It was to be held in a large room with no table. I told Emerald that if the 10 partners viewed me as his agent, not the agent for all, we were probably sunk because of their animosity toward him. I told Emerald that I should walk into the room by myself, and if his partners were sitting on one side of the room I would sit with them. I might even talk against something Emerald might say, but I wanted him to understand that would happen only if I believed it would help get us to a closing.  I told Emerald to not act like I primarily represented him.

The preplanning worked, and we reached a successful closing—but it could have collapsed very quickly. Even with this frank conversation, Emerald and I remained great friends for 20 years after.

#4: Sometimes you are just an attendee with a proposal to get approved or an important view to express. If you preplan and find a seat next to your probable biggest opponent or between your two biggest opponents, that can have a big impact to your success. Most do not like to argue directly with someone not separated by a table or another person. Also, you may find yourself making less inflammatory arguments, and that diffuses the climate, allowing compromise possibilities. Just plan ahead and you will see this does work.

#5: If you are elected to leadership in professional, service or religious organizations, there always seem to be E Players. Anticipate this and plan your meetings accordingly. I have regretted not strategically planning these types of voluntary meetings also.

Remember, you will be much more successful in your meetings if you understand the player type” and think ahead! If your meetings are now on Zoom, the above controls might be more difficult, which means you need to have more premeeting individual communications with different players. Zoom has a mute button you can use, or you can always say, “Something must be wrong with your computer because we cannot see or hear you!”  No strategy works perfectly, but remember, there are actions to mold meeting results in your favor. Try using them!

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