I started binge-watching The Good Wife and The Good Fight right around when COVID-19 began. I quickly saw how several characters on these shows would “read the room” to their advantage. As the lockdowns were issued, I put this post on the back burner as Zoom became the de facto technology and replaced in-person meetings. Although these tips may not yet be 100% applicable, I hope they will be helpful as we return to our regular work lives.
If you watched “The Good Wife” or “The Good Fight,” then you know Elsbeth Tascioni, Eli Gold, and Kalinda Sharma, the secondary characters who are critical to the storyline and — in my opinion – more brilliant than the show’s main characters: Alicia and Peter Florrick, and Diane Lockhart.
That’s because Elsbeth, Eli, and Kalinda have an innate ability to “read the room.” With his political smarts and shares, Eli understands how to move the electorate. Kalinda is tech-savvy and street-smart and skirts the law’s edges, bringing essential information to her bosses, quite often at the eleventh hour. But it is Elsbeth, with her quirky personality, who has the most brilliant legal mind on the show.
The three characters’ thought processes play out effortlessly whenever the camera zooms in and gives us a peek into their thinking. Take Elsbeth’s squint as she connects the dots, all in her head or asks seemingly odd questions. Or Eli, who is likely to be thinking about what lies ahead. And then there are Kalinda’s messy relationships with the men and women in her life.
So how does this relate to my meetings, again? While working in several agencies and law firms, I coached my team to focus on the signals during meetings — especially while the leader is talking. Based on my experience and observations, I created a handy checklist to help you read the room during your next meeting.
CHECKLIST FOR READING THE ROOM
- Assess the vibe in the room as you arrive.
- Are most of the participants facing the speaker?
- Who is nodding in agreement as the speaker is talking?
- Who has their hands folded? (Are they not in agreement?)
- Who is leaning in? (Even in the world of Zoom, you can watch who is connected to the speaker!)
- Are there any distractions? For example: Do you hear any noticeable sounds — people talking or chewing, traffic from outside, cups or keyboards rattling, phones ringing, etc.?
- Are the attendees reading or texting while the speaker is talking?
- Are any attendees taking notes?
Sure, this may be a stretch to compare your firm with the many iterations, characters, and plotlines of a made-up TV law firm, but learning how to read the room might give you the edge, just in case you don’t have an Elsbeth or Eli or Kalinda in your firm.
Bonus Tip: Speaking of quirky and reading the room… Progressive Insurance just launched another ad this morning that features Flo, their quirky spokeswoman. In the ad, Flo’s coworker turns to everyone and says, “Read the room.” Not going to spoil it for you, but it’s fantastic. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/h5H_a2nYOxs