Priya Parker on How to Meet More Effectively

Priya Parker, peace facilitator and author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, puts a priority on setting priorities.

Priya Parker

“When we think about gatherings, we are taught to get the things right—like placing the knife in the proper place. But really, meetings are about people,” Parker said during a keynote at Leadercast Women. And according to Parker, gatherings begins the moment those people—the invited guests—learn about it. 

To increase the effectiveness of your next gathering, Parker suggests determining the need you’re trying to meet, giving the gathering a name and then providing context for your guests when you invite them.

“Gatherings allow us to decide what’s worth getting together for,” she says. If you can communicate what needs to be said in an email, don’t meet. 

You can establish ground rules for your gathering if you wish, even if they are fun. She referenced a party for worn out moms who decided they wouldn’t talk about their kids during their event.

Parker says that with more intimate gatherings, the first 10 minutes are essential. 

“You change the power dynamics in a room based on how you begin your gathering,” she says. 

The host can connect and organize people in a meaningful way by introducing them. She cited a surgical team and how surgeons, nurses and interns all share their names before beginning a medical operation. 

Her research shows that error rates went down when names were exchanged, because the lowest person on the totem pole felt more comfortable speaking up about mistakes he or she observed. Plus, she found that people are more likely to speak up in a gathering if they’ve already spoken once.

She stresses the critical role of a host is not to be invisible or to be a dictator. Parker challenged listeners to lead their gatherings with what she coined generous authority, understanding that facilitating a gathering is a leadership position. Generous authority means not under hosting or trying to control every aspect of the event.

Besides making introductions, hosts should be cognizant of the conversation. 

“You have to protect the weakest people in the room by not allowing others to talk disproportionately. Studies show that teams work best when talking is shared.”

Lastly, Parker challenged the audience to be okay with a little heated discussion during gatherings if it means a problem is getting solved. Don’t seek agreement just to keep the peace.  

“Human nature is just as threatened by unhealthy peace as it is by unhealthy conflict,” she said. “You need to be willing to poke and prod, but you also want solutions.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Allen