Either you’ve done it yourself, or you’ve experienced it. You get into a discussion with a donor, or you’re leading a meeting, and because you have not planned it well or you just have a need to process things out loud, the conversation wanders here and there. It lasts way too long, and completely confuses the donor or the meeting participants due to a lack of focus.

This is a common occurrence in interpersonal and management communication. There are plenty of words but very little understanding about what the point is.

That’s why I call them mindless meetings and encounters. Because for the people on the other side of the conversation, for the most part, it’s a lot of noise, words, and wandering chatter rather than highly focused communication.

And for me, being on the receiving end of this kind of communication pushes my biggest impatience button. I can hardly contain myself; often, I react a little too aggressively. I will interrupt and redirect with, “OK, so what’s the point?”

To be fair, there are quite a few process thinkers out there – people who process/think about things by talking. They sincerely know no other way. And I have learned, for the most part, to be empathetic with their need to process think.

So, how should you deal with either your tendency to process think or the tendency of others who you either manage or encounter who have the same style? I have several suggestions:

  1. Recognize and accept that those who process think do not know another way. In fact, they may not be able to communicate in any other way. If the person works for you and needs to relate to donors or other members of the team in a leadership manner, work with them to follow the suggestions I am giving you here. Also, as much as you can, meet with them before a donor encounter or a meeting. Process with them beforehand so they can gain clarity on where they are going.
  2. Establish objective(s) before every meeting or encounter. This is critical. I establish an objective for every meeting I have no matter what the meeting is about or who it is with. The important thing is to know where you are going. Then, communicate that at the beginning of the meeting. I start every meeting or encounter with a version of the following: First, a relational start with “how are you” or “how have you been” or something similar. Then: “The purpose of this meeting is (state objective)” or “The reason I wanted to meet with you is (state objective)” or “What would be good to accomplish in this meeting is (state objective).” And then manage the meeting staying very close to those stated objectives.
  3. Leave room for innovation, creativity, and serendipity. If, while you are in the meeting, you hear a new idea or a possible new direction that can or will change the objective of your meeting, go with it. Explore it. But be quick and efficient about it or it will devolve into mindless chatter.
  4. Watch out for and manage an impatient attitude and tone. If you are like me, you have to battle this every day, i.e. how long it takes some folks to get to the point. Listen well and guide delicately toward helping others focus their communication on what needs to be done. Help them get to the point and stay on it.

There is so much wasted time in mindless meetings and donor encounters. And that reality is not only a waste of time but a very real scarring and damaging of relationships. Watch for this in your communication, how you manage others, and in every meeting you have.