Alignment from the sidelines

In a work environment that grows more complex by the day, healthcare leaders can overlook some simple tools they have for building alignment and collaboration.

This is a quick reminder. There are subtle and constructive techniques leaders can use to contribute in meetings and discussions without grabbing the spotlight or taking up much airtime. These suggestions will support robust conversations, reinforce stakeholder alignment, and boost your effectiveness as a collaborative thought partner.

Structure. Even if a meeting has a clear agenda and is conducted well, there may be considerable variation in the way people express themselves. Some speakers get right to the point, others ramble. Some are ‘high-level’, while others tend to focus on the minutiae.

Regardless, one thing we can all do is organize our remarks into several key points. These anchor our words in the minds of listeners by providing a simple framework – ‘Here is what I think is important’ – and make our remarks more easily understood and remembered. This technique also models structure for others and reduces the risk of going off on tangents.

Confirm understanding. Confusion can occur in meetings for many reasons. There may be asymmetries of information wherein some individuals are more prepared or better-informed than others. There may be differing priorities around the table. Or a conversation may simply be shifting too quickly for some individuals to keep up.

These may be moments when confirming understanding will be helpful for the entire group. A quick check of fact or interpretation – ‘Before we move on I’d like to ensure that I’ve understood correctly…’ – can reduce confusion, build alignment and avoid misunderstandings later on. This may mean interrupting the flow of a meeting, but it is in a good cause. People will generally forgive an interruption if we are gracious, concise and bringing clarity to a discussion.

Influence pace. There may be opportunities to gently influence the pace of a meeting with timely questions and clarification of important points. This can be effective if you feel that someone may not fully understand everything that is being said, or that important points are being glossed over and bear repeating.

Adjust your speed. For virtual meetings or conversations involving multilingual individuals, it may be helpful to slow your pace of speech. With virtual communication we lose nuances of body language, facial expression and tone of voice. Slowing down to compensate is efficient -- and gracious -- because it reduces misunderstandings and the need for repetition.
Similarly, when working with people operating in a second or third language, slow your speech slightly to allow them more time to process what is being said. Enunciate clearly and avoid slang terms they may not recognize. We can be more effective in the healthcare workplace by recognizing the challenges of virtual communications and working in multiple languages.

Be concise. Limit your airtime to leave space for others to speak and contribute. This will give you more opportunity to listen and will be appreciated by stakeholders. If you focus on being clear, concise and easily understood you will be impactful and the airtime will take care of itself.

Explore strategic possibilities. Another technique for adding value without monopolizing airtime is to ask concise, pertinent questions, particularly implication questions. Asking a good ‘What if?’ question at the right moment requires effective listening and engagement, so remember to keep your eyes and ears open.

Build alliances. Strengthen your personal connection with stakeholders with phrases like “Building on Antonio's point...” or “I’d like to return to Dr. Miller’s comment…” Referring to individual contributions in this way signals that you are listening carefully to their words. Over time this recognition can build rapport, empathy and trust.

In sum, a subtle and effective way to build alignment is to look for ways to add value without doing a lot of talking. This will make you distinctive in many healthcare settings and establish you as a collaborative communicator and thought partner.

Mark A. Brown
Clarity Professional Development, Lda
+ 351 215 835 880 or

Mark Brown works with executives who are striving to become more effective leaders. An American based in Europe since 1994, Mark has worked extensively as a facilitator, leadership consultant, and executive coach across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, with individuals of 75 nationalities. He is a director of a Portuguese company providing tri-lingual leadership development to firms worldwide.

Mark holds an MBA from Solvay Business School (ULB) in Brussels, an MA from SAIS - Johns Hopkins in Washington, D.C., a diploma from Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a BA from the University of Florida. A highly experienced executive coach and mentor, he holds a PCC from the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Mark has published articles on executive coaching, leadership development, and business strategy and published his first book in 2016, ‘The Empathic Enterprise: Winning by Staying Human in A Digital Age’. He works comfortably in English, Spanish and Portuguese and resides with his wife in Lisbon, Portugal.

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