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Check out our weekly blog posts and see the latest news and discussions happening in the HR world of business.

One simple word to keep your work meetings on track

We’ve all sat through them – the meetings which run far past their planned time frame, largely due to too many people straying from the agenda and no one being brave enough to reel them back in and keep them off topic.

But what if you could keep these tangents limited without veering into tantrum territory? The folks at Harvard Business Review suggest that it really isn’t that difficult. In fact, you can get it done by uttering just a single word…and it’s not even a curse word!

The word in question? Jellyfish.

But why this word? Jellyfish aren’t exactly known for their business acumen. Instead, they’re odd looking creatures with no brain, no blood and no heart and they just drift along on the ocean current. So why is it so effective?

Well, HBR notes that if they’re being honest, it’s less the word itself and more the rule – although they do note that in their studies, ‘jellyfish’ has had the most traction and seems to resonate with the most people. Here’s why it works:

  • It’s safe. The word is both simple and funny, and if set up correctly at the start of a meeting, it carries the same effect as other more traditional ways of interrupting and redirecting the conversation (without the traditional uncomfortableness).
  • It’s accessible. Ok, so this is less about the actual word and more about the rule that it represents. In setting up the meeting by telling folks that anyone can invoke the jellyfish, you give everyone the tools they need to keep the meeting on track.
  • It raises awareness. Because everyone is aware of the rule, everyone is aware that tangents aren’t going to be tolerated, they become more self-aware about staying on topic. In fact, HBR notes that it’s not uncommon to see someone call jellyfish on themselves!

So, how do you set this up? HBR recommends that at the start of your gathering, introduce the jellyfish ground rule: If any attendee feels the conversation is heading off course or delving into an inappropriate level of detail, they can and should employ the word to indicate that opinion.

Would the jellyfish trick work for your company? Let us know in the comments.

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