Learning To Read A Room, Part 1

In business meetings, reading a room is important. It helps you figure out how to get buy-in and get things done.

I read an interesting article in Business Insider by Max Nisen. He reflects on the work of David Kantor, a systems therapist who coaches executives on leadership and group dynamics in learning the hidden patterns of conversation and action.

In order to learn to read a room, he says three main factors are at play, all starting with what he calls a speech act, For every speech act there’s an action by participants. You could be a mover, an opposer, a follower, or a bystander.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you are leading a meeting. A mover might say, “We need to spend less time in these meetings.”

  • You could follow in agreement: “Yes, I’ve been concerned about the same thing.”
  • You could oppose the move, raising objections or trying to stop it: “I don’t think that’s right. We need time to cover every topic on the agenda.”
  • Or, you could step back from the situation and be a by-stander, reflecting on the actions being made, without agreeing or disagreeing: “Ian wants shorter meetings, Ralph wants to keep them the same length. What does everybody else think?”

Skilled communicators are aware of these actions and how to respond. You may not want to oppose an opposer, for example, but you might try by-standing, to pause the sequence a bit, then follow by acknowledging that the person’s concerns are legitimate. Finally, move by establishing your own point of view or a way to discuss the problem better.

Find the full interview here.