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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Lancaster

The Hidden Factor in Meeting Success: Mastering Nervous System Regulation

Nervous system regulation

Our nervous system is vital for both our physical and emotional health, as well as our ability to quickly recover from stress or triggering events [1].


In this article, I briefly explore the nervous system and the impact on our performance in meetings with existing and potential clients.


I then share some practical methods and resources that have helped me and that might help you in improving your results.


“Many attempts to enhance meeting performance focus on visible aspects such as systems, processes, behaviours, and skills. While these are crucial, they often overlook the fundamental hidden factor of nervous system regulation. This oversight can have profound implications”

Poor regulation of our nervous system can weaken our ability to genuinely serve and support our clients as trusted advisers and business partners. For instance, our capacity to listen, think creatively, and offer suitable advice can be diminished when we are under increased stress from the pressure to generate fees.



My Perspective on Nervous System Regulation


As a trained Integral coach and facilitator working with groups of professionals, I write from personal experience. I’m not a neuroscientist, psychotherapist or claim to be an expert in these areas. I've been on my own journey and now I support professionals in accounting and business advisory to improve their meeting outcomes.


Meeting confidence and performance are frequent topics in my conversations with senior partners, who want to equip their client-facing professionals with the skills and resources to perform better under pressure so that they can better serve their clients and support business growth.



The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a part of our nervous system responsible for controlling most of our body's involuntary functions, such as heart rate, pupil dilation, and digestion[2]. The ANS is divided into two branches:

 

  • Sympathetic Nervous System: Triggers the 'fight or flight' response.


  • Parasympathetic Nervous System: Promotes the 'rest and digest' response.

 

These systems work together like a well-coordinated team, where one takes charge during high-stress moments (the sympathetic system), and the other helps us relax and recover (the parasympathetic system).


Understanding how our autonomic nervous system influences our behaviour and performance can be particularly insightful in our meetings with potential and existing clients. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems play crucial roles in determining our physiological and psychological responses during our 1-1 interactions.


The table below outlines the distinct impacts of these two systems on various aspects of performance, helping to illustrate how our body's automatic responses can affect our meeting effectiveness.



Table 1: Nervous System Impact on Meeting Performance


Nervous System Impact on Meeting Performance


Common Pitfalls in Performance Improvement Initiatives


Many attempts to enhance meeting performance focus on visible (exterior) aspects such as systems, processes, behaviours, and skills. Like the trunk and branches of a tree, these elements are crucial and observable.


However, they often fail to address the fundamental hidden (interior) factor of nervous system regulation, akin to the roots of the tree. Just as the roots provide essential support and nourishment to sustain the visible parts of the tree, nervous system regulation underpins and influences all other aspects of performance, often with profound implications.

Interior and Exterior Impact


Implications


This oversight can undermine our capacity to truly serve and support our clients as trusted advisors and business partners. For example, our ability to listen, think creatively, and provide appropriate advice can be compromised when we experience heightened stress from the pressure to bring in fees. This stress – when not managed well – can lead to an undesired nervous system state, impacting our performance.


“Paradoxically, by detaching from the commercial outcome and the pressure to 'sell' services that may not be right for the client, advisors are much more likely to develop profitable, long-term relationships”

The pressure may also result in defaulting to routine services that may not be appropriate or missing much larger opportunities. The true trusted advisor supports their clients beyond conventional services and focuses on what is right for the client's unique circumstances, even if it is not immediately commercially attractive for themselves or their firm. For instance, this could mean signposting the client to a competitor who is better placed to serve them in a specific area.


Paradoxically, by detaching from the commercial outcome and the pressure to 'sell' services that may not be right for the client, advisors are much more likely to develop profitable, long-term relationships. Therefore, addressing nervous system regulation is not just about individual performance. It is about creating the space to be fully present, fostering stronger relationships, and helping our clients navigate complex issues and achieve their goals.[3]



Impact of Early Trauma on the Nervous System


Individuals who experienced trauma early in life are more likely to have a dysregulated nervous system, particularly under stress. This dysregulation is associated with issues such as depression, addiction, anxiety, and emotional outbursts[4]. In a business context, this may lead to challenges in maintaining composure, focus, and effective communication under pressure.



Dysregulation and Its Effects


When the autonomic nervous system is dysregulated, the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is disrupted.


In our modern, stressful lives, many people experience an overactive 'fight or flight' response due to their sympathetic nervous system being constantly stimulated[5]. This can result in increased anxiety and difficulty in managing stress, negatively affecting our ability to:


  • Be fully present

  • Listen deeply

  • Respond thoughtfully

  • Present ideas clearly

  • Develop trust


Professional meeting


Regulation Methods and Resources to Improve Meeting Outcomes 


Excessive worry and the frequent release of stress hormones can hinder the nervous system's ability to regulate itself effectively[6]. This makes it harder to stay calm, think clearly, and engage positively during meetings, which can impact our performance.


To address this, we must work on our self-awareness and practice methods that help regulate the nervous system. By doing so, we can improve our ability to manage stress, enhance our focus, and communicate more effectively[7].


Here are three practical methods and resources that have worked for me in preparation for – and when conducting – my meetings that you might also find valuable. You can start with these immediately and adapt to suit your circumstances.



1.     Breathwork – The Physiological Sigh


A technique I've started practicing before meetings is the physiological sigh described by neuroscientist and podcaster Andrew Huberman[8]. By consciously taking a double inhale followed by a long, slow exhale, I can rapidly reduce feelings of tension.


This technique allows me to offload built up carbon dioxide through the lungs' air sacs, lowering my heart rate and promoting a relaxed yet focused state. I've noticed a calming effect that helps me think clearly and engage productively with others.


By learning this simple sigh technique, we can gain more control over our nervous system arousal and better prepare ourselves mentally for important conversations. The physiological sigh provides a quick way to reduce stress and promote a relaxed focus, helping us perform at our best during discussions.



2.     Balancing Preparation and Spontaneity


In his bestselling book "Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot," Matt Abrahams highlights the critical balance of preparation and spontaneity in client meetings. He advocates for using simple structures to swiftly organise thoughts, facilitating spontaneous and impactful responses. This blend of readiness and adaptability not only enhances credibility but also strengthens client relationships.


For example, in my work to support professionals in their interactions with existing and potential clients, I teach a structured approach that builds on professional coaching techniques. A simple structure that allows for deep understanding, problem solving, and collaboration follows the steps of 1) Create Clarity, 2) Generate Options, 3) Move to Action.


"This framework helps professionals focus on clarifying the client's unique situation and priority areas, exploring support options, and determining sensible next steps in a non-pressurised manner. This structure with the appropriate training and practice, supports more effective and dynamic communication in service of our clients".

Structured preparation and techniques such as the physiological sigh can mitigate undesired effects of the fight-or-flight response, ensuring professionals remain calm and focused during high-pressure client interactions. Abrahams also advises anticipating questions and practising impromptu speaking to achieve this balance. By skilfully managing these responses, professionals can sustain composure and perform effectively under pressure, thereby ensuring more successful meetings and client interactions.



3.     Free Meeting Planner Template


Here is a meeting planner we've adapted and fine-tuned over the years, which you might find valuable too. It has been instrumental in helping many professionals – including myself – enhance the value, profitability, and trust in every client interaction.


Developed through decades of hands-on experience, this planner reflects road-tested methods to ensure each meeting delivers tangible results, builds trust, and supports profitable client outcomes.


Balancing preparation with spontaneity is crucial in client engagements, and this tool is crafted to achieve that. It guides effective preparation while allowing flexibility to respond dynamically during meetings.


Whether you're nurturing relationships with existing clients or pursuing opportunities with new prospects, I encourage you to explore this structured approach. It's a powerful resource that could also improve your interactions and business results.






Bringing it all together


What we’ve learned through this article is that mastering nervous system regulation is crucial for successful meetings and building deep trust with clients. By using practical techniques like the physiological sigh and structured meeting frameworks, we can stay composed, focused, and communicate effectively under pressure.


Beyond what we’ve covered, activities such as breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, staying active, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet can further strengthen our nervous system. The evidence suggests that these habits significantly enhance our overall well-being and enable us to effectively navigate challenges in our professional lives.


Remember, moving beyond traditional services to truly understand and support each client’s unique circumstances is essential for building lasting trust and more profitable relationships.


What methods have you found effective in managing your nervous system and enhancing your performance during client meetings?





References:

[5] https://amzn.eu/d/g5Kq7Mj (Think Faster, Talk Smarter, Abrahams, 2023)

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