Yesterday, while coaching one of my executive clients, we began to speak about what it feels like to walk into a meeting that has an open agenda. The premise might be that it is a planning meeting, but without any other guidelines or framework there is a risk that the meeting will dive down into an unknown and uncomfortable space.

She asked me simply, “can you help me come up with a safe word so that I don’t react to something I am unprepared for?” As we explored further, I reminded her that many of our actions and reactions are triggered by fear. We fear that we may not have the answers that our boss or client is looking for in that moment. We fear that we may not make the “right” decision. My belief is that fear can be overcome, or at least managed, with 3 actions. They appear simple on the surface, but are much easier to talk about than to do.

The acronym we came up with to overcome the panic that fear can manifest is PLC: Pause, Listen and Clarify.

Pause: When you hear something being presented to you and you are asked for your thoughts, pause. Whether you are in agreement or not, pause so that you can measure your response in a calm and thoughtful manner. This holds true for email responses as well. Pausing helps slow your heart rate and reduce the fight or flight reaction to that which is uncomfortable.

Listen: After you pause, make sure that you really listen to the person speaking. At times, as soon as we are triggered, we stop listening to the person who is talking. Instead, we listen to the voice in our head that is strategizing how we are going to respond. When we do this, we undoubtedly miss key points of the presentation or conversation. Listening will help focus our minds.

Clarify: Once the time comes to respond to the topic on the table, it is helpful to ask clarifying questions. I have found that this helps avoid starting from a defensive position. Phrases like, “can you clarify how those numbers were derived?” or “is there a specific example you can share to further illustrate your idea?” If you ask for clarification, you may be able to avoid assumptions or misunderstandings.

When possible, ask for an agenda in advance of your meetings, or better yet, if there isn’t one, you can propose your own. However, if you find yourself in a meeting without a roadmap, remember to look both ways before you pause, listen, and clarify.

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