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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: In the Room

By Kevin O'Toole, July 13 2021 12:01 am

I have written and touched on this topic before, but I think it warrants some amplification—being in the room.

We often rely on others (staffers or colleagues) to take a meeting for us or ask that they present as expected and report back only the important information. If I wanted a full transcription, I would pay a court reporter to create a verbatim record OR have a secret ham-fisted political hack secretly record the meeting.  Neither option is really a practical solution in our face-paced world.

When I ask someone to take a meeting for me, I simply want the discussion to be heard and distilled to its absolute core, and I want it conveyed to me as quickly as possible. Not a tough assignment, but it requires some practice.

The problem in our business of politics is that we all come with our experiences, old habits, preconceived notions, and ability (or inability) to correctly hear discussion points. During these wartime meetings, we sometimes hear what we want to hear, miss key points, seize up if the discussion is in any way about us, or somehow just miss nuance or subtleness. Not ideal for information gathering.

As I was taught, when listening to an important conversation—and they are all important—tone, inflections, precise language, vague threats, or revisiting of an old issue are some of the signs that need to be picked up during these designated meetings.

As I have said before: give me the conversation, put me in the room, and don’t allow me to miss anything important.  The reality is that most of the discussion can be quickly dismissed as unnecessary or trivial. But, like a forensic scientist finding a discarded single mohair red fiber, the principal needs to be aware of a prolonged pause, a tailing off sentence, or some other seemingly innocuous item that can be telling and, ultimately, a game changer.

As I have written about before, information is king, and one of the key ingredients to a successful organization or political career is being in the flow of valuable information, ahead of the wave, and being able to use that information before others.

Next time you want to help the cause, put the boss in the room and make the next crucial decision an informed and intelligent one.

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