- Chapter 24 -
t is surprising to observe what emerges from meetings. People hear different things. Or to put it more correctly, they hear the same things but give them different meanings. It is particularly interesting that people who have opposing viewpoints can attend the same meeting and come out with the strong conviction that what was said supports their respective positions, and they quote the same speaker to prove their points. Because of this conflict in what some hear, but also because it is desirable to clarify matters and to provide better understanding for all in attendance, it is useful to summarize a meeting before everyone departs.
Of course, if it is an official board or committee meeting, a secretary might be taking minutes to be circulated later, and such a verbal summary may not be necessary. But there are many meetings when this is not the case, and a summary is helpful. This is particularly true if a deal is being concocted and it is important for each person to understand what his or her rights and obligations are, or if some action is planned and each person has to know what to do.
A suggested procedure is to volunteer, "I would appreciate the opportunity to summarize what I believe we have said today to be sure I understand it." Rarely, if ever, will anyone object, and usually, even for the simplest and briefest meetings, there are some corrections and addenda to the summary. Frequently, it leads to a rather lengthy discussion and clarification, even after everyone thought the meeting was over and that all present understood the content. Summarizing a meeting takes a little skill, which can be improved with practice.
An outstanding practitioner of this is Sally Hayes who is professional in helping boards and committees go through evaluation procedures. We were having a meeting about the possibility of having a management study done for a non-profit organization. After a two hour discussion, she summed up, "This is what I hear you saying..." And in about four sentences, she put it all together. It was a pleasure to see the affirmative nods around the table.
Once I had a luncheon meeting with three men in the oil business to discuss a complicated deal. As the lunch was winding down, it appeared that we were ready to leave, each feeling he had a complete understanding of what had been decided. I asked for the opportunity to summarize what I thought had been concluded, to which they agreed. I had not gone far before I came to an important part of the deal, and it was apparent that it had not been resolved. There followed an animated conversation until the matter was clarified, and then I began again. When it was over, it was pointed out that I had forgotten to mention two aspects, which were then described by another person.
It is clear that if I had not volunteered to give a summary, we would have left with an important point unresolved. Furthermore, repeating the terms helped reinforce them in our minds, and a reminder of the two points I had forgotten to mention was helpful.
There are times when it is wise, after a meeting, to write a letter to one or more of the participants relating your understanding of important points. If there is any disagreement, it should be straightened out as soon as possible before peoples' memories dim. It can be important at a later date to have a written record of commitments made.
A certain salesman was passed over for promotion in his organization. In his opinion, it had been unfair because he was convinced that his performance had been better than others who had been advanced beyond him, although he was aware that because his territory was more distant than others from headquarters, he had not been able to maintain the same contact with his superiors others had. He arranged a meeting with the vice-president in charge of sales, who promised to sponsor him for promotion at the next meeting at which such considerations were to come up. Subsequently, he found out that the V.P. had not even brought up his name, and later denied he ever made such a commitment. The salesman realized, after the fact, that it would have been wise to have written a letter to the V.P. confirming the commitment and providing him the opportunity to bring the matter up at a later date.
Such a letter might have been as follows:Mr. Robert R. Baxter, Vice President
The Shilling Corporation,
l522 Simsway Blvd.
Fairmont, TX 77378
I arrived in Chicago tonight and am looking forward to seeing Joe Gillian tomorrow morning. According to what he told me on my last visit, his inventory is running low and I expect a good order.
I appreciated the visit we had yesterday.
I was especially glad to hear you say that my performance had been impressive. I should have seen to it that the two Cordell sales had been recorded before the end of the month.
Also, I was grateful that you agreed to sponsor me for promotion at the meeting which will take place on October 10. Naturally, I will look forward to hearing the results.
If it is an agreement among friends, it should also be written out in detail and preferably with copies, each of which have been signed by all parties involved. Someone may say, "Oh, we don't need that. We're friends, and there is no disagreement.", but it is amazing how, with time, different people have different memories of what took place and what was agreed upon, and it is wise to have it in written form. It might save a friendship!
A written summary of a meeting or an agreement can provide common understanding and avoid future problems.