Scarlett Letter #148: How to manage your impatience during inefficient meetings.

{Preface: the individuals of whom I mention are well intentioned. I have no doubt they are dedicated to their academic professions and to the students.}

Recently, I attended a meeting to discuss Columbia College’s Oral Communications classes for Fall and beyond. There were four part-time faculty members that teach this course within our Department. There was also a head of our group—a fulltime faculty member who has taught the course in prior years.

What was right about the meeting:

>The agenda (talking points and order presented were on target).

>The kernels of wisdom shared among us.

>Everyone was ‘heard’ and had the opportunity to speak freely and equally.

What was wrong about the meeting:

>Everything else.

The attendees, especially the facilitator, are long-winded and repetitive in their comments. A couple of them talk slowly when thinking, almost a drawl. I entered the meeting excited to talk about pedagogy and best practices for our future oral communications courses.  At the same time, I had prepared myself that the meeting might lack efficiency.

So sure enough, the 2-hour evening meeting began (20 minutes late). Right away, it became clear what was going to happen. The facilitator was trying to hear everyone’s opinion, yet she didn’t set any ground rules in terms of what should be expressed versus what was just ‘hearing oneself talk’ and/or repeating what had already been said.

My impatience reached it’s boiling point fairly quickly, and I found myself wishing there was action that I could take—right then and there—to help guide the meeting in a more efficient, productive way. I kept thinking, ‘Gee, there’s some great stuff here, but it’s buried within a lot of nonsense. We would all benefit from delving deeper into some of these topics, but why can’t these people economize their words? Now our time will evaporate with very few positive outcomes.’

This experience reminded me of inefficient meetings I’ve attended over the years at AEC firms.  Perhaps you’ve also experienced helplessness, impatience, and frustration as a meeting attendee.

In the article Best Practices for Effective Meetings published in Modern Steel Construction, I offer key tips for maximizing meetings as both a facilitator and an attendee. However, I neglected to address what to do to curb your own impatience while simultaneously trying to be a productive attendee. Here are three tips that I devised for managing my own impatience in the future. I’d be very open to additional advice from you (feel free to email me privately if you prefer).

Managing impatience during ineffective meetings:

1. Be productive during the balance of your workday. To compensate for what you expect to be an inefficient waste of time, make sure that the rest of your workday is highly focused—before and after the meeting. That way, you can relax a bit more during the timeframe where you feel time is ticking with little to no reward.

2. Enter with the goal of being the world’s best attendee.  Sure, everyone else might be rambling, off-topic, repetitive, or vacillating. That doesn’t mean you need to model that behavior! Instead, go to the meeting with advance knowledge on the topics; prepare any key messages that you want to succinctly communicate; bring along a coffee or (non-alcoholic!) drink of your liking as a ‘treat’; and have visions of pleasant thoughts to ensure that your facial expressions do not reveal your frustration.

3. Observe, and take mental notes about what not to do as a meeting facilitator.  Acknowledging what doesn’t work can most certainly make us become a better leader of our own meetings.

Finally, I’d love to add a tip #4: share constructive feedback with the inefficient meeting leader, and offer up your help for future sessions. However, since I myself was too wimpy to take this action, it would be hypocritical to suggest it to readers. That said, if you do have a safe, trusting relationship with the meeting facilitator, then I think that #4 could prove to be mutually beneficial for you, for them, and for your company.

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June 09, 2012