This article was first published in the September 2017 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

The greater part of the business day is spent in meetings but it’s all too easy to fall into common behavioural traps. For example, you can find yourself withdrawing, only to regret it later, wishing you had spoken up. On the other hand, fuelled by the strength of your convictions or bolstered by your expertise you can risk dominating the interaction, leaving little room to explore your client’s perspective. Between these two extremes lies the more fertile and balanced ground of engagement, where both parties contribute to the discussion and where both are heard and understood.

Behaviourally, there are five strategies that provide a solid foundation for fostering engagement:

1. Ask questions. A mantra for skilful behaviour in meetings is this: give less, ask more, ask better. The intent is to help you build your client interactions around inquiry. Being curious rather than judgmental is one of the most powerful ways to ensure you’re heard and to build the relationships that will help you towards success. Ask clients for their ideas, their thoughts and their reactions: ‘How do you think we should do this?’, ‘What’s your basis for saying that?’, ‘How do you feel about what’s been discussed so far?’ Questions also help to provide clarity, ensuring people leave with the same level of understanding.

2. Vary your contributions. The default inputs in meetings fall into a category of behaviour known as ‘giving information’. This includes making statements of fact and giving an opinion or reasons. Meetings deemed as ‘successful’ tend to score lower on this category compared with average or unsuccessful ones. Research into effective meeting behaviours has revealed a number of more effective alternatives, three of which are outlined below.

3. Build. This is used by the most skilful individuals and involves adding to or modifying a proposal or suggestion. Building relies on your ability to listen; done authentically, it also demonstrates that your interest lies with the people generating the ideas, rather than competing with your own. A further use is as an alternative to disagreeing with an idea; rather than reject it outright, take an element that you like and work with that. It’s a powerful way to build relationships, improve climate and gain momentum.

4. Summarise. You can help the entire meeting by summarising key points at regular intervals. In studies on skilful behaviours across a range of work situations, summarising regularly shows up as a helpful, yet still relatively uncommon, behaviour. One of the reasons it’s rare is because to summarise accurately, as with building, you have to be a good listener rather than focusing on your own agenda.

5. Label. A behaviour label is a device that announces the behaviour that you’re going to use next. For example: ‘Can I just ask a question?’, followed by a question, or ‘I’d like to add some information here’, followed by giving information. Labelling helps command attention and creates the space for you to be heard.

Building your awareness of these strategies and taking opportunities to practise them will help you to create greater engagement in meetings, securing a good rate of return on the time you’ve invested. Building new behavioural muscle will increase your flexibility and expand your repertoire, ensuring that your voice is heard in meetings for the right reasons.

Ally Yates is the author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business