How to make online work meetings courteous and productive

We all know how quickly online discussions on social media can become both toxic and extreme, but that is often because people can hide their identities.

As more people work from home, however, they are having to use various online platforms to meet with colleagues and there are ways to help make them productive.

Firstly, it is a good idea to be familiar with the platform being used before the meeting. Who can forget the US lawyer who appeared at a court hearing as a cat because he couldn’t work out how to remove the picture his young relative had installed?  Or the US senator who appeared to be upside down throughout an entire meeting?

To get the most from an online discussion, there are some things it is worth remembering.

Inevitably there will be disagreements when discussing a strategy or procedure. It is important to remember that disagreement is often a necessary part of a discussion or debate, but if it is not to descend into outright hostility, there needs to be some discipline imposed from the meeting chairman, such as by muting people when someone is speaking and then inviting a response.

Courtesy is key as this extract from a Guardian article demonstrates::

“People skilled in the art of disagreement don’t just think about their own face; they’re highly attuned to the other’s face. One of the most powerful social skills is the ability to give face; to confirm the public image that the other person wishes to project.”

This example was describing the methodology used by hostage negotiators but it applies equally well in business meetings:

“In front of an audience of colleagues, people are more likely to focus on how they want to be seen, rather than on the right way to solve the problem.”

This means people may well see a challenge as reflecting on their competence. However, a skilful chair should be able to defuse a confrontational situation to the eventual benefit of all participating in the meeting.