Aleteia

A lesson from Pope Francis on how to run meetings

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The pontiff has some tricks up his sleeve that are both spiritual and practical.

Pope Francis demonstrates daily that being a man of faith is compatible with being practical. He applies his talents through simple actions full of meaning, and this makes it easier for his message to reach a wide audience.

I’d like to talk about one practical lesson in particular that we can learn from the way he works, specifically regarding how he directs meetings,.

During the ongoing Synod for the Amazon, Pope Francis has indicated that a moment of silence should be observed after some of the presentations of the Synod fathers so the participants could listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and have time to discern. This is necessary because in order to discern, we have to have time to reflect and use our intelligence, not just react with our gut.

Productive silence

The synod is comparable in some respects to other international congresses or conferences. What often happens at large meetings of this sort is that there is a series of presentations, one after the other, with only the occasional coffee break, because everyone wants to make good use of their time. There are speakers and presenters who have traveled thousands of miles and who are making presentations on important topics, and the idea is that every minute possible should be used to convey information. Nonetheless, during this event, in the midst of a western civilization that rewards speed, the pope is recognizing the importance of silence—a kind of silence that isn’t idleness, but productive reflection and prayer.

What if we were to apply something like this to all of our meetings? What if we set aside a moment of silence after presentations, so that what the speaker has said has time to sink into our brains? In order to be useful, it should come before any questions and answers or reactions. It’s not about taking a half hour break, but about taking a pause in the marathon of information to give the participants time to process what they’ve heard and evaluate it calmly.

Benefits

What will we gain by doing this? Here are some possibilities:

    • A greater appreciation of what other people have said;
    • A greater sense of empathy towards the members of the group;
    • A greater sense of responsibility when speaking;
    • A more receptive attitude of listening;
    • Better use of time, since, as everyone knows, the more noise there is during a meeting, the more time is lost and the less effective the meeting is. With this little moment of silence, we would make the moments of speaking and decision-making more effective.
    • Greater satisfaction for the speaker, since they will see that their contribution is taken into account
    • Decisions will be made with more reflection, and will thus be more prudent.

If you are admirers of Sherlock Holmes, you will appreciate what he says to Dr. Watson in one of the novels: “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.”

Of course, taking a moment of silence during meetings and conferences doesn’t exclude taking a moment for physical activity as well, such as getting up, stretching your legs, breathing fresh air, and drinking coffee, etc, all of which helps us get our blood flowing, our brain oxygenated, and also keep our eyes open.