Playing with reluctance

Lots of people don’t really want to be in your meeting. Some don’t want to be there at all, and others will experience chunks of time when their minds drift elsewhere. How are you going to keep their attention?


If you are notionally in charge of the meeting, you probably feel under pressure to produce some simple solution. Like running an icebreaker or trying to make every presentation as exciting as possible. The trouble is, a lot of the time this kind of strained effort at engagement just annoys people and they become more desperate to get away.

There may be more wisdom in reflecting on what it’s like to engage reluctantly, when you yourself are just a participant, not the leader or facilitator. One of the side benefits of going to a regular yoga class is that we get to encounter our own reluctance  —  all the inner voices saying not to bother going this morning, or distracting us in the middle of some posture with the urgent desire to escape for a coffee. We remind ourselves: this is what it might feel like for many people coming to events we’re hosting.

Even writing this short article, we almost bailed out about five times, with an inner voice asking, “What’s the point?” In order to keep writing, we had to find a middle way. Neither ignoring the reluctance, nor caving into it: but seeing if we can feel reluctant and write it anyway. We have to practice moving to that position again and again to get writing done.

So on the whole, we think it’s better to be a little softer and kinder with reluctance. We try to play with reluctance.

And we can do the same for other participants. Sometimes, we start meetings with a line up. We get people to form a line, according to how enthusiastic they feel about being here right now. We invite them to stand at one end if they’re feeling wildly enthusiastic and at the other if right now they’d really like to be somewhere else, for whatever reason. A lot of the success of this depends on setting it up with enthusiasm and kindness, making any position on the line sound interesting and legitimate. Most people feel negative about at least some of the meetings they go to.

We often then suggest people pair up with anyone else, from anywhere on the line, and have a chat about why they chose that spot. They can share notes with a kindred spirit, or find someone with a different view, or just find out why a friend is in an unexpected position.

You can often find energy just by being interested in where people actually are instead of cajoling them to be somewhere else.

We try to maintain this kind of attitude throughout, being interested in dissent, reluctance or downright refusal. For strenuous activities we usually make it clear what are reason is for doing it, and invite people to adjust the activity if they need to - or step back and observe rather than join in. There’s really limited mileage in enforced compliance with any process.

There’s usually wiggle room if you can avoid labelling people as resistant — and you get to play with your own anxiety and stubbornness by doing so.

(Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash)