I’m no fan of meetings, but I have yet to meet a person who is.
I read an article a while back that if you don’t find value in a particular meeting that you should decline it. While there’s certainly some merit here, unless you’re The Boss, it’s unlikely that you’ll have the freedom to decline every meeting in which you don’t find value. The other problem is that a meeting may not be valuable to you, but your presence in it may be valuable to other people.
We hit a rough stretch a while back, and a number of meetings started showing the same signs –
- Awkward silences
- Long pauses
- Unanswered questions
- Glancing around the table
There were plenty of reasons for this. Among the most common –
- Speaking up felt unsafe
- No one felt heard
- Meeting didn’t seem to create any change
At some point I’d had enough and crossed the line into feeling like I no longer had anything to lose. So I started speaking up. Answering questions. Asking challenging questions. Voicing the concerns I’d heard other people mention, even if they weren’t my own.
The meetings didn’t exactly get better, but things started to shift because the team had a safe mouthpiece. While it’s not the most glamorous position, and it comes with some inherent pitfalls, it did begin to change the nature of conversations for the better. Eventually, other people began to speak their minds.
I can’t claim credit for making a change, but I did learn something I should have learned a long time ago. Challenge isn’t bad. Neither are questions. And if you’re not in a position to challenge what’s being said or to ask questions then you’re in the wrong position.
Since then, I’ve made it a personal goal to improve skills which would have made things easier.
- Identifying when you will be heard
- Speaking the language (figuratively) of the person with whom you’re speaking
- Identifying when to not back down
- Learning to say no in a way that doesn’t entirely shut down the conversation
While I wasn’t entirely lacking these skills, they were all rough around the edges. As I’ve polished them, I’ve found that more things get done, more pitfalls are avoided, and doors open.
I’m also happy to say that other people have made the same changes, and now meetings are genuinely places of discussion where things get accomplished.
It’s not about avoiding meetings. It’s about changing them.
Having the points made through a fictional story (followed by a more direct recap of th principles) was a pleasant break from other business and leadership books which I’ve read.
Although I feel that the conclusions on how to balance meetings are too rigid, I agree with the need to foster open and unfettered discussion and to ensure that each meeting doesn’t attempt to accomplish everything.
Despite not buying in wholeheartedly to the specific division of meeting types, there’s still value in the way the book separates certain types of topics and points out when certain limitations or freedoms will be of the most value.