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Also in this compendium: Lessons business leaders should take from the presidential debates

You can improve your meetings by systematically applying four levels of questions to them.

They pertain equally from team discussions to coaching conversations to business analyses, according to meetings specialist Tai Tsao.

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It's called the ORID method, but don't let that vague acronym put you off, nor the fact the four levels of inquiry at first seem a bit hard to grasp: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional. It's actually quite a practical system – a focused conversation method, reminiscent in some way of Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats for those who have tried that system.

"As individuals, we go through all of these levels internally when making decisions. However, everyone places emphasis on different stages of the process. For example, a data scientist might focus more on the objective data, while project managers might emphasize more on the analysis that leads to decision-making. The job of the facilitator is to guide the group through the entire process without solely focusing on one and jumping to conclusions without a full perspective," she writes on the Meeteor site.

The first set of questions, Objective, reveal facts and reality. It provides grounding, since different assumptions, interpretations and perspectives can shape reality. Some typical questions she provides:

· What is the history of the situation?

· What facts do we know about the situation?

· What words, phrases, or pieces of data stand out in the data or presentation we're reviewing?

· What are the deliverables or what are we trying to achieve?

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· What resources do we have?

Reflective questions tap into our relationship to the data, nudging us to explore feelings, emotions and personal connections to the situation we're considering. Emotional data is often not acknowledged in a business setting but she points to facilitation expert Laura Spencer, who insists they are important data that can strengthen and support the decision when taken into consideration, and can jeopardize the decision when ignored. Some questions:

· What does this remind you of?

· How does this make you feel?

· What did you find new or refreshing?

· What surprised or delighted you?

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· What feels most challenging or worries you?

Interpretive questions help to make sense of the situation by examining values, assumptions, significance, and implications. They move us into critical thinking and analysis. Some questions she suggests:

· What have we learned so far?

· What does this mean for us?

· How might this affect our work?

· What more do we need to know or further explore?

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· If we got a chance to do it again, what would we do differently?

· What patterns did you see among similar events?

Finally, Decisional questions lead to action. They pull together insights you have been developing to generate options, determine priorities, examine the potential benefits and consequences of the options before you, and decide. Examples:

· What do we need to start, stop, or continue doing?

· How does this fit into our priorities?

· What is relatively easy to do? What is the low-hanging fruit?

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· What has to happen first, second, third?

· What skills or resources are we missing? How will we acquire those?

· What are the next steps? Who will do what by when?

You can use these questions as a participant in a meeting, but obviously it would work better if you are facilitating the session or the group has a history of using the ORID method.

It helps you to stay focused, understand the collective wisdom, and move effectively to a decision.

2. Lessons for business leaders from the presidential debates

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Often business leaders reject advice telling them to practise before major presentations. They argue they don't have the time or that the presentation will feel stilted – not natural and spontaneous – if they rehearse.

If you make that argument yourself, you might want to think of Donald Trump. He didn't practise for the three U.S. presidential debates. And he lost them all.

Indeed, presentations consultant Nick Morgan says you can draw one lesson from the debates: Preparation matters. Hillary Clinton prepared. Hillary Clinton won.

"Clients sometimes feed me the same line as Trump – I don't want to rehearse because I'll get stilted, overrehearsed, and the result will look fake. I used to fall for that one, but not any more. I now recognize it for what it is: an excuse to avoid preparation out of nervousness. It's simply a way to postpone the evil day," he writes on his blog.

He warns that when you don't prepare, your body language can trip you up. It's not aligned with your content. Rehearsing allows you to get your body language – how you look, how you move – in line with the words you are speaking. It makes the situation more familiar, so you are less likely to be surprised.

"When a human being is surprised, he or she reacts defensively, and adrenalin spikes. Your heart races, your palms get sweaty, the rest of you gets sweaty, you get a kind of tunnel vision, and your ability to think becomes similarly restricted," he says.

You get dry mouth, he says, and so you drink water. "Mr. Trump's water drinking became a meme, while Mrs. Clinton never drank once. That made her look cooler under fire than Trump," he says.

So follow her lead. Prepare.

3. The five irrefutable paradoxes of leaders

Leaders are usually hard-charging, Type-A personalities, who make decisions quickly. But consultant Andreas Jones says leadership can be paradoxical, and what we sometimes assume is the correct way needs to be inverted. He offers these five examples on

· Success comes from failure. Most leaders are used to succeeding. But they will meet moments of failure, and need resilience and the ability to learn from it.

· Humility is a key characteristic of great leaders. Great leaders are often viewed as arrogant. But the best know how to learn from the people they work with. "They know how to stop and listen to others. If you struggle with this, make a conscious decision to talk less and listen more at meetings," he warns.

· Know how to not do. Top leaders are not micro-managers. They encourage growth in their subordinates. They help them to learn new things that will make them better at what they do. They give increased responsibilities to others.

· Don't rush employees' development. At the same time, leaders can be patient. "When there is a lack of obvious future leaders, it can create pressure to rush things. You need to develop patience. Start by thinking about the patience the leaders who mentored you had when you made mistakes. Then make an effort to manage your expectations. Don't expect even good employees to learn new and complex skills the first time," he notes.

· Leadership is about relationships, not unilateral decision-making: Top leaders are good with people, developing authentic relationships with a wide variety of colleagues.

4. Quick Hits

· Management professor Michael Roberto says AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner seems driven by the fact it will be easier for AT&T, a distribution system, to succeed if it combines with a content creator, Time Warner. But he asks could co-operation be achieved more effectively by other means such as contracts, licensing or strategic alliances, and is the acquirer ignoring the lack of co-ordination that often occurs within large corporations?

· The 16 to 17 hours we have awake each day amounts to about 100 10-minute blocks of time, blogger Tim Urban writes. Are you using them effectively – with a purpose?

· An important life skill is to stop taking things personally, advises personal development coach Mark Manson.

· After noting the many times businesses told him they were doing something for his "convenience," consultant John Spence asks: "What might your company be doing for your customer's 'convenience' that is not actually convenient for them at all? Where are you causing frustrations, disappointments and unhappy customers because it is more 'convenient' for you and your staff? How can you remove or replace any procedure that is not truly convenient for the people you serve?"

· If you're trying to convince a venture capitalist to invest in your company because of the fabulous product or technology, you're on the wrong track. A new study indicates they are more interested in the management team, seeing that as critical to success.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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