How to change the world with a bag of M&M’s

Guest-blogger and co-author of ‘Meeting Together’ Lois Graessle shares some thoughts on mess, meetings and what we can all do to transform our world. These thoughts were part of the keynote speech she gave for a Bucks New University graduation ceremony at which she received an honorary degree.

When I was growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, we had the chocolates called M&Ms at all of our family celebrations. Little did I know then that M&Ms would take on a whole new meaning in my adult and working life.

Today when I think of M&M’s, they stand for two things I’m on a mission to change: ‘Mess’ and ‘Meetings’.

The challenge
We have made ‘mess’ and ‘meetings’ into monsters, usually groaning at the mention of either. Yet they are what we do as human beings – we make messes and we meet to try to sort them out. We are not bad. That’s what we do.

I want to offer you a simple way to turn mess and meetings – and messy meetings – from monsters into a satisfying challenge. And I want to show you their link to world peace! So I am going to share with you a secret agenda for meetings, tell you a story – and give you a little bit of homework.

These are difficult times. Public services are in a particular mess. There is chaos and confusion and uncertainty in most services and in the policies about services.

In this situation, many of us are overwhelmed – we may feel hopeless, powerless, depressed and cynical.

Yet it is often in the most challenging times that we step up as our best as human beings. ‘Mess’ can be the raw material out of which we create new ways of living and working together. And the instant communities we call ‘meetings’ are where we come together to do this.

If we can transform a meeting, we can change a world.

The secret agenda
At the heart of what I have learned in all these years is the secret agenda, no matter what the official agenda. It is the agenda that will help you develop your own potential and find your distinctive contribution.

It will help you avoid a sense of powerlessness and cynicism in these circumstances – because I think they are waste of your precious life energy.

This agenda will help you with job interviews too: they are another kind of meeting!

This three- part secret agenda is a simple way to tap into your true power:

1 Meet yourself first.
Meetings are opportunities for your own personal and professional growth In preparing for a meeting – no matter what the business, face yourself, honestly. Ask yourself: what one thing can I do to develop my own potential and contribute effectively to this group?

2 Connect with someone.
Meetings are a gathering of people: connect first and only then get on with the business.

Before the meeting starts, connect with someone else. It could be a person you have been avoiding, someone who really irritates you – or simply a colleague you haven’t talked with for a while. Greet them.

3 Keep your promises.
After the meeting, reflect on what you learned about yourself. Keep your promises – to yourself and to the group.

This review is critical – your aim is to make this portable and secret agenda a habit for each and every meeting – no matter what the business.

The story
Let me tell you a story about how a colleague did this.

Tuyen was a refugee from Vietnam, one of the boat people. Her husband and child had died on that journey.

As a community worker for Refugee Action, she supported women and children. She had to go to many meetings with local authorities and health authorities. In one particular meeting, she told me, she always left feeling patronised and ignored and never able to get her point across. She felt intimated by several members of the group and humiliated that she was not doing right by the women and children she worked with.

Tuyen said she realised that these meetings were as new a culture to her as Great Britain had been – and that she needed to learn this other language and culture in order to know how to work more effectively.

This is what she did. She decided that before each meeting, she would go up and greet one of the people who was most intimidating. Doing this, she observed, let her move from fear to the strength of her dignity. This courage to face what intimidated her the most also made her more effective in the meeting.

She found her way.

Remember, this was the agenda she used:

– before the meeting, face yourself truthfully
– at the meeting, start by genuinely connecting with someone else
– afterwards, review what you learned about yourself and keep your promises.

Yesterday I was talking with a team leader and asked her what she found the most difficult thing about managing staff. Instantly she replied: “people who do their job properly – but without heart”.

Teachers and healers, your true agenda is people, their hearts and minds.

I hope this helps you.



If you’re looking for effective meeting training, our ‘Making Meetings Magic’ workshops offer the basics on how to implement these ideas and are available in-house to your company or also through our public workshops across the UK.

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