Nearly everyone I know complains that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating. Part of the problem is that we use meetings to engage in various forms of ritualized nonsense. There are dozens of these tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the first installment of a little catalog of the more common tactics. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, for more.
- Here's a still-warm 20-page handout to read while we discuss this incredibly complex issue.
- People can't read something while they discuss it. When we distribute printed material "in support" of a presentation, we're actually undermining it, because we're asking people to do two things at once — listen and read. Most of us can't do that. Distribute supporting material far enough in advance to enable people to prepare for the meeting.
- Tree Slaughter
- Here's a 20-page handout that directly corresponds to my slides. File it, then let it age until recycled.
- One common excuse for this practice is that having in hand a printed version of the slides on the screen helps us make notes as the speaker goes along. If that's your reason, use "handout" format to decrease the page count and to reduce the damage to the world's forests.
- Let's see how many conversations we can have simultaneously and still believe we're accomplishing something.
- Sometimes, when sidebars erupt, the meeting chair lets them persist. Sidebars are distracting and reduce everyone's effectiveness. If you chair or facilitate a meeting, ask the speaker for a moment, and try something like, "Excuse me please. When I see multiple conversations going on, it seems to me that people aren't listening to the meeting. Phil has the floor right now." If the behavior is part of a pattern, deal with the "behavers" privately afterwards.
- I'm better than you are.
- This thesis is unprovable, except perhaps in the mind of the prover. When you find yourself doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can. When you feel that someone else is doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can.
- And I'm louder, too.
- The high-decibel version of "One-Up." Use the same approach for this as you would for a hurricane or typhoon: stay out of the way.
- Let's see who can speak a grammatically correct sentence consisting entirely of acronyms.
- Acronyms are often useful shorthand. Good acronyms eventually become words — "scuba," for example. But too often, we cross the line. We string letters together into unpronounceable chains, or we name components using artificial phrases that make "cute" acronyms. Use real words if you can, or coin something if necessary.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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