We’ve all been there—sitting in a meeting that is dragging on too long, wandering off topic, no clear agenda, people droning on and on, going into way too much unnecessary detail, feeling powerless. One of my personal pet peeves—starting late and/or running over the time set for the meeting without permission. Grrrr.
Why do we accept these conditions? I know all the traditional answers. “Because it’s my boss running the meeting.” “Because I don’t want to be rude.” “Well, it’s not my meeting, so I don’t feel like it’s my place to step in.”
Bunk. All of it is BUNK.
If you have been invited to be part of a meeting, you own that meeting as much as the person running it. Certainly, you own your own time more than anyone else does. What’s really getting in our way of speaking up, asking questions to get the agenda back on track, or excusing ourselves once the time set for the meeting is up?
No, I’m asking. What exactly is really getting in our way?
Our culture has done a wonderful job of training us to play the role into which we feel cast in any given situation. If you’ve been invited to “someone else’s meeting”, you automatically will go in with the attitude that you are there at their whim and pleasure, and that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation if/when it goes off the rails. My informal study of this over the past 20 years shows this to be true, time and again.
But what if you went in with a different attitude? What if you were to mentally claim as much responsibility as the meeting leader for things to go well, run on time, and accomplish the goals set forth? How would that change your attitude about being in the meeting? How would it change your participation? And how would it change the outcome of the meeting?
Challenge: pick a meeting that you will attend in the coming week. Any meeting that you’re not “in charge of”. Feel free to start with the easiest one you can think of to help keep on track. Do you receive an agenda in advance? Are you clear on the purpose of why you’re even going to this meeting and what the hoped-for outcomes are? If not, start by emailing, calling, or stopping by the cubicle or office of the person who is “running” it, and ASK. You just might help them clarify for themselves!
During the meeting, ask questions to help get things back on track. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to) “How much time do we have left for this topic? I know we need to wrap up soon.” Or… “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand what we’re working towards here. Did you have something in mind you’d like us to decide on this issue?”
But the biggest challenge is to just start somewhere. Make a difference in your meeting culture this week. Don’t just show up—take responsibility to help make it a better meeting. You’ll be happy you did.