Are your meetings mentally healthy?

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On World Mental Health Day it is encouraging to know that many organisations are increasing their focus on promoting good mental health among their people.  It’s not just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense because positive mental health allows you to get the best thinking you can from the people you employ. 

How many organisations, however, have brought that focus into the mainstream of their everyday operations. Are they making sure that the elements of their business which take up most of their people's time are also promoting good mental health? Are they going beyond awareness raising to consider the impact of the working environment on the mental health of their people?

Take meetings for example. Surveys suggest that the average person spends at least a day a week preparing for or attending meetings. In professional firms that figure may be very much higher.  How we interact with each other, in meetings and elsewhere, is vital to organisational effectiveness and wellbeing, but also to the individual wellbeing of those involved. If we have a voice, and believe that voice is actually heard, then this will help promote our wellbeing whereas the frustration of not being listened to, of being treated disrespectfully, will have a negative impact.

Here, therefore, are five questions to ask when considering how to make your organisation’s meetings more effective, to generate better thinking, and to promote the mental health of those that attend those meetings. 

1. Is anyone listening? Do people actually look at the person who is speaking or are they looking at email on their phone? Are they really listening to what's being said? Or are they waiting to jump in with their own point or even worse just interrupting with it anyway?  Good attention helps the speaker think straight and make the valuable point they need to with ease and calmness. Much better than feeling attacked, rushed or ignored. 

2. Is everyone contributing? In my experience, meetings are dominated by a handful of voices. Others in the room can barely get a word in edgeways, or have the feeling that they can’t or shouldn’t speak up. Over time, the sense of feeling ignored, insignificant or undervalued has an invidious effect on confidence, self-esteem and mental health.

3. What are they talking about? Is the meeting making valuable use of participants’ brainpower, engaging everybody in resolving real and important challenges? Or is it a sterile transfer of information, project updates and last quarter’s results? Good mental health thrives on stimulation and worthwhile debate, not doodling and disengagement.  

4. Is there disagreement? Consensus can seem comfortable, safe and a good aim for a meeting.  But if it hides groupthink or if people fear disagreement, then your organisation is probably very far from achieving good business health let alone good mental health. Healthy debate is just that – healthy.  Where people can share fears and concerns about projects instead of bottling them up, they reduce the stress levels that can lead to poor mental health. And real debate also leads to better solutions and better management of organisational risk. 

5. Is there praise? Are people’s contributions simply taken as read or are they genuinely, specifically and overtly recognised? Do discussions focus on what went wrong with barely a moment’s thought about what went right? There is plenty of research to suggest that focusing on positives rather than negatives provides a far better foundation for the collaboration and problem solving which benefits both individual and organisation.  

What do you think? If you’re in meetings on World Mental Health Day, how do they measure up against these five questions? What positives do you notice and how can you build upon them?

This blog was written by Katie Driver, a friend of byrne·dean, who inspires us and with whom we hope to work ever closer going forward.  More details of Katie and her work can be found here.  If you are interested in ways to promote better thinking in your organisations then let us know.  

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