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Practice meeting

Practice meetings are a great opportunity

to observe

your partners' interpersonal skills ­ Dr Tanvir Jamil explains

s a registrar you may feel your hands are already full seeing patients and sorting out their ailments. As a partner, the workload almost doubles ­ not because you see significantly more patients but because the business side of general practice needs to be addressed. Finance, staff, premises and organisation of patient services are part of a principal's remit. To co-ordinate the practice you need to communicate with partners, staff and other primary health members.

Love or loathe them, sooner or later you will find yourself in a meeting somewhere in your surgery. Try not to walk in on one accidentally. This can be avoided if you are given adequate notice and an agenda. Meetings, like bowel movements, can vary widely ­ some small and regular, others large and infrequent.

Meetings are a great way of getting to see how colleagues work and think. The dynamics of most meetings are very similar. Your first formal meeting ­ probably a partners' meeting ­ is an ideal opportunity to sit back and observe. Nobody will expect you to contribute a great deal, but be on time and try not to be first to leave.

The chair may be the senior partner or business partner. Your practice may even rotate the role every few months. A practice manager may also take on this role. There will be someone taking notes unless a tape recorder is used.

A meeting's success or failure often depends on its chair. Observe how they run the meeting. They bring up the agenda, make sure everybody is listening, 'enable' people by getting them involved, gently coaxing contributions and making sure no one person dominates. At the end of the allocated time, they will summarise what has been said and decisions agreed.

Listen to the way others contribute. You can guess their interpersonal behavioural style just by observation.

 · Drivers have a strong need to control and may try to dominate. Others should hold their ground if 'drivers' come on strong. They like freedom to choose their own methods for reaching goals.

 · Analyticals often prefer to do things alone, need time and space to process information, and will take their time to respond and participate.

 · Amiables tend to be cautious and like to avoid conflict at any cost. Although they often appear in agreement, their compliance is not necessarily a sign of commitment. They like to feel needed and to help.

 · Expressives are very open with their feelings, tend to be emotionally based and may vent feelings by attacking the situation and people involved. They like to be listened to sympathetically and have their emotions accepted.

Don't just listen to what your partners say, look at their body language. Many people lean forward when they wish to speak and back when they have finished. When speaking, eye contact with the chair can 'keep the floor'. Eye contact with other members of the team in sequence will help retain attention and provide feedback to the speaker.

Timing and synchronisation enables someone to cut in just as the previous speaker is finishing, without interrupting, but just ahead of others who may be trying to get in. Who are the individuals who seem to speak all the time? If they do not use high volume or interruptions, it is probably because they have great timing.

Consider any alliances or divisions in the practice. Who do people look at when they talk?

At the end you may have learnt a lot about your colleagues, but was the meeting worthwhile? Did people arrive late, engage in private conversations, never volunteer for jobs, keep interrupting, keep reopening a topic already discussed or just sleep?

Was the chair ineffective with poor people management skills? Perhaps there should be a different chair? What about you? Ever thought about a course on chairing meetings?

Or was the meeting a great use of your time with clear-cut decisions, with fair share of workload and everybody given the chance to have their say? It sounds ideal and, believe it or not, does occasionally happen.

Don't just listen to what your partners say ­ watch

their body language~

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