Surveying the literature about meetings, it's easy to find advice for running effective meetings. I therefore determined that the market for running ineffective meetings is underserved, and I now offer this humble contribution to that neglected field of study.
Probably the most effective way to make meetings ineffective is to take the discussion off track. If you're chairing the meeting, taking the discussion off track is so easy that there's little new I can offer. But if you're just a meeting participant, you're far from powerless.
There are three keys to taking a discussion off track:
- Know that you have personal responsibility. If the meeting is on track, it's your own fault.
- Know that you have personal power. Everyone else secretly wants to get off track — all they need is a little nudge.
- Know where the track is. You can take a meeting off track much more easily if you know what topics are on track. Pay attention.
With all this in mind, here are some tried-and-true techniques for getting meetings off track.
- Object to the agenda
- Since many meeting chairs now seek agenda consensus at the beginning of the meeting, don't object to the agenda then. That would be on-topic. Instead, wait. Raise your objection right in the middle of one of the agenda items. You can object to discussing this item now, or discussing this item ever. Or you can insist that before we discuss this item, we must discuss something not yet on the agenda. The possibilities are limitless.
- Dispute the way we discuss whatever we discuss
- If you If you can't derail a topic altogether,
then dispute the approach the meeting
is taking to discussing the topiccan't derail a topic altogether, then dispute the approach the meeting is taking to discussing the topic. If they're discussing the advantages of mowing the lawn north-to-south compared to south-to-north, throw in the idea of mowing east-to-west. Or mowing less frequently, or replacing the lawn with a rock garden.
- Outshine everyone
- Whenever anyone else is getting close to demonstrating that they know something about anything, take the opportunity to demonstrate that you know more than they do, or that whatever they might have been thinking of saying will be wrong.
- Misrepresent other people's contributions
- After Mr. Peabody presents proposals based on data showing that the new product line is outperforming the old, you can start by saying, "I agree with Mr. Peabody that the new product line is underperforming,…" Suddenly the discussion will shift from exploring Peabody's proposals to debating the meaning of Peabody's data. Digging their way out of that hole could take hours.
- Attack, Attack, Attack
- Nothing gets people going like a good old-fashioned ad hominem attack. Instead of critiquing the points people make, critique their personal integrity, their right to be in the meeting, or their humanity. Degrade others at every opportunity. See "Mudfights," Point Lookout for April 14, 2004 for more.
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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.