Too Many Meetings

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“Boredom is a compromise between desire and fear.”
A professional whom I very much respect and trust made the above statement in a recent discussion. We were talking about the endless number of meetings that populate the calendars of technical professionals these days.

Indeed, in my experience, the number of ineffective meetings that land on calendars is a persistent and pervasive inhibitor to high performance.

I sit through any number of management meetings in a given month in my role as consultant. I repeatedly observe first-hand the all too evident behavioral signals of impatience, frustration, and boredom. “Why am I in this meeting?” the body language so readily communicates.

A column in last Sunday’s NYT “Another Meeting? Say It Isn’t So?” offers some tips for dealing with meetings run amok. There’s nothing profoundly new here, but I find that it’s meeting basics that even the most senior leaders need to be reminded of again and again (e.g. be clear what kind of decision you are asking for, if any, and who’s making it).

Next time you’re sitting through yet another “boring” meeting, you might ask yourself these two questions: “What is it that I desire?” “What is it that I fear?” Maybe what you attribute to boredom will be transformed to … what?? Try it.

  • I have to admit it… I do like this definition of boredom. There have frequently been times during the course of my career that I have decided to change the tenor of a meeting, or even add a little “spark,” by asking the “dumb question” in a meeting. I have found, 9 times out of 10, that this little act of bravery catches people by surprise. In almost every case, the first 5 seconds of a response is the rote answer (with the requisite tone of voice “well of course everyone knows that…”). After that, however, the person will often surprise himself. 9 times of 10, even they do not know the obvious answer and meeting immediately becomes more fruitful.

    It seems, oftentimes, that meetings that are executed as a form of empty ritual, are most susceptible to this line of “dumb” inquiry. I frequently try to stick my neck out during these types of meetings to essentially ask “what are we really doing here?” It tends to draw even the most reserved (shy) people out.