There’s no intrinsic reason meetings should be awful. We are, after all, a social species that thrives on both collaboration and conversation. So logically, you’d expect meetings to be not just tolerable, but joyous — an opportunity to revel in what it means to be human.
Which is… not how it usually works out.
Whether they’re held on Zoom or face-to-face, meetings seem doomed to bring out an unproductive stew of distractibility and personal insecurities, seasoned with conflicting goals and topped with a dollop of rivalry. Sprinkle on inequities and power imbalances, and serve just a little too warm and unventilated. Ahhhhh.
(Side note: If nothing else comes out of this pandemic, let it be that we no longer tolerate stuffy, soporific meeting spaces.)
One way some folks pass the time in unproductive meetings is to lean into their meaninglessness. Instead of settling for accomplishing very little, they set their sights at rock bottom and aim to accomplish absolutely nothing.
For instance, they take up hunting ideas for sport. It’s surprisingly easy to deep-six new, creative thinking with phrases like:
”I like the thinking here, but I’m reluctant to reopen past decisions.” There’s almost always a past decision that’s at least tangentially at play in any conversation.
”I don’t want to lose this thread, but I just want to revisit (can of worms that was finally re-sealed after hours of bloody wrangling).” If someone points out the idea-hunter said just five minutes ago that they didn’t want to reopen past decisions, they can reply by quoting Walt Whitman.
”Do we have budget for that?” ‘New and creative’ usually also means ‘unanticipated when we were drawing up the budget back in November.’
”I admire the creativity. I just think we want to be prudent in these unprecedented times.” Best said in a quiet, sombre voice.
”Do I have to remind everyone what happened the last time we tried something like that?” It requires a willingness to bluff — but it’s not a huge risk. Nobody wants to be the one to admit they don’t in fact remember.
There’s an alternative to hunting for ideas to kill, of course. It’s to make meetings actually work, on and offline. Mind if I suggest a book with some awfully good advice to that effect? (Yes, I said the previous cartoon would be the last one inspired by the mighty Alex’s book. I was wrong. Truth is, her inspiration is boundless.)