John Wareham

The best meetings have two leaders, advocates and synthesists. Advocates openly press for a particular point of view. Synthesists explore all points of view and keep the discussion calm, logical, and moving forward. Only schizophrenics can hope to play both roles simultaneously. So if you’re one of those Alphas who feels compelled to fight openly for your views, let someone else run the meeting. The best way to get the outcome you want, however, is to become a synthesist. Anoint an advocate within the crowd to make your arguments, and press the discussion in the direction you want it to go. Or you can, perhaps, introduce a highly credentialed expert upfront, give him the floor to make your very best case, then include him in the discussion as a staunch defender of your secret position.

Socratic questioning is the synthesist’s secret weapon. It is easier to pontificate but not as effective. That’s because, as the gods well know, we mere mortals pay attention to only the things that we discover for ourselves. The Socratic synthesist’s secret weapon is to involve everyone with open-ended questions that bring focus to the key issue, examine underlying assumptions, monitor the logic, introduce alternative perspectives, probe implications and consequences, create constructive confusion, and extract ultimate clarity.

People judge a meeting by whether they were able to speak their views and others truly listened. As synthesist, your job is to involve everybody. And, of course, to restrain anyone who thwarts or attempts to dominate the progress of the discussion.

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