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Queue at the check in?

I miss meetings in the office sometimes, just for the sake of the dashing between them. Its good for a quick burst of exercise rushing between rooms, floors and often buildings. Dashing from one meeting to the next over the last 6 months hasn't involved leaving the chair, so the new routine has had to include some alternatives ways of making sure I still stand up and move about regularly. But many of my meetings still start the same way - with a check in...

The check in question at the beginning of a meeting ensures everyone has the opportunity to speak. I associate with Nancy Kline and her work on the Thinking Environment, although Restorative Practice is where the practice stems from in the meetings I find myself in. If you haven't come across the 'check-in' before then quite simply its an icebreaker, a question that enables everyone to speak. Many people are very nervous about speaking in meetings, and the longer the meeting goes on without them saying anything, the harder they find it to speak up. The idea of the check in question is that those 'first words' nerves are taken away at the very beginning. Trouble is, its not quite that simple.

Take the colleagues who habitually use a check in, because 'that's what we do round here'. People are familiar with the process, and are expecting it, but that's not all they are expecting. They are expecting a queue, and it may well be the queue to check in can take a large chunk of time out of the beginning of the meeting. Now that's ok, if the check is well thought through and serves the purpose you intend from it. But if its just 'highlight of the weekend' on a Monday morning, then we might just be better off without it. Sometimes we don't have a highlight, or worse, there can be times when the weekend didn't go well and its the last thing you want to be asked. And if it takes 25 minutes of an hour's meeting, the question perhaps should be 'is this worthwhile?'

Now, I'm not against the check in, I'm just in favour of it being done with thought and for good reason. In a small group, or where not everyone in the meeting knows each other, and particularly in a group which contains people you know may not find it easy to otherwise join in. Creating the right environment at the very start of those meetings is vitally important and a well managed, thoughtful check in is really effective. If you've never tried it, then its a great way for someone to feel like they can speak without interruption and be heard.

But does it truly help with meeting nerves? Certainly not always. I've worked with a growing number of people who have come to expect the check in question, and actually find it the most nerve wracking bit of the whole meeting. I've worked with one or two who deliberately try to arrive late to miss it! Why? Well they tend to be those who like to be prepared and feel anxious about not knowing the answer if they are asked a question. If they have read the agenda and meeting papers they are able to prepare for the meeting, and manage some of that anxiety, but then pops up the check in question, which they have no way of knowing in advance, and have to think on the spot - the thing they most dread.

So if you've never given check ins a go, perhaps check out Nancy Kline's work on Thinking Environment, and you might find yourself in for some really useful and interesting changes. And if you are a check in frequent flier, don't let it go stale and become more harm than good, really pay attention to what you are asking and why. And for those of you with meeting anxiety, there are some great tips and techniques you can learn that help you to engage in those meetings with confidence. If you want to find out more contact us for a chat.

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