Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Looming Meeting

The meeting that you do not want to attend snickers and snorts on your calendar and conveys a vague sense of dread.

The unease is not produced by any fear of confrontation. This is not an occasion when you have to deal with an unpleasant person and where the best thing to do is to get the darned thing over with.

This is a mandatory meeting that will be a boring, time-waster. You can easily think of twelve things you'd rather be doing and that includes looking at clouds.

But you have to be there. Your presence is important because you are representing others and your rank, such as it is, demands that you fill a chair. All possible ways of delegating your role to others have been exhausted. You are trapped.

All that remains is to adjust your attitude. Here are several approaches that have worked for me:
  1. Be in but not of the meeting. Attend with the idea that you'll be pleasant and cooperative, but you'll have an invisible shield of indifference that will prevent an overreaction to any nonsense. Regard the session as the near-equivalent of a cocktail party rather than a business meeting. This will lower your expectations and frustration.
  2. Attend with the goal of getting to know one or two of the attendees better than your schedule has previously permitted. This puts you into more of a journalist role as you seek to find out what is happening in their areas. You'll leave with a better relationship with some people.
  3. Pretend that you are an anthropologist of meetings. Carefully note what disturbs you about the meeting and what is done well. Go with the assumption that everyone else has the same reservations as your own and yet all of you have somehow gotten snared by an unproductive process. Try to pinpoint just what you would change to improve the meeting.

In my experience, you are not the only person who is shy, bored, and irritated by the process; in fact, the majority of the meeting participants probably share your feelings. That raises the questions of How and When to surface your concerns. You can't do it if you're the new kid on the block. At least three meetings may be required before you'll have the credentials to propose some changes.

By checking with others outside of the meeting, you may discover a surprising number of allies.


Kurt Harden said...

Number 3 is my favorite.

Eclecticity said...

I used to have one of these. It was the Monthly Corporate Compliance Meeting. The Compliance Officer was a genuine PITA. I called it my monthly root canal meeting. I was not the only one who thought this way. Eventually it became quarterly. When the PITA went away, I ensured that my presence was no longer necessary and I would graciously accept invitations when I was needed.