How to Not Be a Complete Idiot in Your Next Meeting
A great meeting is a work of art. A lousy meeting is a train wreck. Lord, give us more artists.
4 things to never say about the people upstairs.
- I don’t know what the people upstairs are thinking.
- I doubt we can do it, but we have to try to keep the people upstairs happy.
- We’re going to fail. Maybe the people upstairs will learn to stop asking us to do stupid things.
- The people upstairs don’t get it. But we have to try anyway.
Middle management requires loyalty to the people upstairs when you’re with the people downstairs and loyalty to the people downstairs when you’re with the people upstairs.
3 things to never say to the people around the table.
- “Trust me.” Anyone who says trust me isn’t trustworthy.
- “I don’t know anything about this, but here’s what I think.” No one cares what you think if you don’t know anything.
- “That’s stupid.”
2 things to do when you don’t know what to say.
The person running the meeting asked for your thoughts and you don’t have any. Now what? You don’t want to look like an idiot.
- Ask about timelines, deadlines, and priorities.
- Add to another person’s idea. “Mary’s input made me think about….”
7 tips for thriving in meetings:
- Talk less if you’re a talker.
- Contribute more if you seldom talk.
- Stay engaged. Look at people when they talk. Take notes.
- Stay on topic!
- Use people’s names. Make a map of the people around the table when you’re in a meeting with people you don’t know.
- Focus on getting things done.
- Clarify responsibilities.
1 neglected agenda item:
Work on the way you meet.
At the end of your meeting ask, “What’s one thing we could do to make our next meeting more efficient?”
What would transform meetings into works of art?
I won’t claim to have ever held a meeting that I would call a work of art, but we managed to conduct meetings that were productive and inclusive. Your list of “7 tips for thriving in meetings” incorporates techniques we used, with one addition to #7, “Clarify responsibilities,” to which I would add “including deadlines.” Open-ended tasks seem to never get done.
One note on loyalty: All the managers under my authority knew not to say “they” in reference to higher management. I told them, “You and I are part of ‘they’.” Our organization offered ample and continuous opportunities for input, but we all had to row together once the course was set.
A trait I noticed among some leaders, when I was coming up, was continuing a meeting long after it had achieved its purpose, as if the meeting was not valuable unless it lasted an hour.. When I conducted meetings with my people, we kept them short and to the point. Socializing in meetings was kept to a minimum, although we had plenty of other opportunities to socialize. I knew very few people who just loved meetings, but we made ours at least bearable and not dreadful. Thanks for another thoughtful and cogent post!
Thanks Jim. Wonderful insights. Adding “deadlines” to responsibilities reminds me of the sentence, “Who does what by when.” If we can’t answer that, we just wasted everyone’s time.
Love he rule that “they” is “us.” 🙂
Regarding length of meetings. Who wouldn’t want a shorter meeting? Someone said that work expands to the amount of time allotted for it.
“Middle management requires loyalty to the people upstairs when you’re with the people downstairs and loyalty to the people downstairs when you’re with the people upstairs.”
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!
I currently have two managers (one manager and one director) that are co-leading my department. They have begun in the last 4 months constantly complaining about their leadership and other departments within the company. At first I was sympathetic because they are working long hours and under-resourced. However, it’s really starting to wear on me. I have respect and have worked for their leadership in the past. I don’t always agree with their decisions, but I wouldn’t complain to people that report to me about it in team meetings.
Thanks SB. It’s so true. Listening to people complain about others sucks the life out of us. This is the place were sympathy is destructive.
If we’re going to complain, complain to their face.
I have a peer that says our names all of the time when talking to us and feels disingenuous and sometimes manipulative and fake. I get it when you need to make sure everyone in the meeting knows who you are talking to but it sometimes isn’t helpful in my experience.
Great point RL. Being genuine seems to be fundamental to everything we do. If you aren’t genuine, what are you? A hypocrite.
Thank you for this!
Things to not say about the people upstairs: “Look! The emperor hasn’t got any clothes on!”
There are times when loyalty to those at the top will destroy your credibility with anybody below you.
Thanks Mitch. Perhaps there are limits to loyalty. The other thing that comes to mind is loyalty isn’t always about agreeing. If you voice concerns or disagreements and your suggests are rejected, be loyal. If you can’t be loyal it’s time to move on.
I wonder how you feel about saying to the people below, “I expressed my concerns and we’re moving forward anyway.”
If haven’t already, check out Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting. Super easy read and some amazing learnng!
Absolutely! Thanks Edgar.
I figure if we can’t offer something constructive to the meeting, better to sit and listen.
In one of my work’s conference rooms there are various sayings in the room such as (and I am paraphrasing), “If you torture numbers long enough, it will confess to anything.” Your statement “A great meeting is a work of art. A lousy meeting is a train wreck. Lord, give us more artists” needs to go into the conference room too. The list of 3 things never to say at the meeting should also be posted in the conference room. I have noticed when someone does say “trust me” that is always a red flag and I start wondering if anything can be trusted. Trust me is a way for someone who is hide something or not providing all the information on the subject. Trust is something that is built and can be easily torn down so instead of trust me, the approached should be to explain or provide detailed information covering the entire subject.