Monday, January 17, 2011

Can Meetings Sabotage Your Career?

“The brain will absorb only what the butt can endure.”

-- Anonymous

Who hasn't sat through a meeting and wished there would be a fire alarm (false, of course), just so the torture would come to an end? Raise your hand if you feel like you attend too many meetings, but fear proposing an end to endless meeting would lead to more meetings to discuss the issue?

Still, meetings can be important in ways you haven't considered. Alliances can be made or broken in meetings, power structures can be built -- or destroyed -- by the dynamics present in a meeting.

Next time you attend a meeting, consider:

  • Looking the part. If you show up looking disorganized, trailing papers like bread crumbs and appearing as if you slept in your clothes, others may think you're not ready for the meeting -- not someone who should garner attention or respect.
  • Being more than a lump of human clay. OK, we know you don't want to be at the meeting, but don't sit there with a mutinous look on your face, tapping away on your Blackberry or shooting irritated glances at everyone in the room. You're a grown-up, not a 13-year-old who has just been made to go to Aunt Sissy's 85th birthday party. It's OK if you don't have anything relevant to say, but at least look interested and pay attention.
  • Don't be the silence-filler. If there are silences in the meeting, let them be. These are the times when you don't want to open your mouth and add to the problem by starting a discussion about something off-topic and inane, like who stole your tuna sandwich out of the office refrigerator last Friday.
  • Spit it out. No one likes someone who rambles when making a point, so make sure you've given some thought to what you'd like to say before the meeting so you'll say it as concisely as possible. On the other hand, don't let someone interrupt you or you'll set the tone that others can do the same. If someone butts in when you're in the middle of a thought, say something like, "Please let me finish..." and then keep going.
  • Don't always be the "devil's advocate." It's valuable to express other opinions, but it's annoying as hell to everyone if you're always the one setting off little bombs in a meeting just to get people riled up. People who constantly say, "I hate to be the devil's advocate," really love it. We know it, so just stop doing it.
  • Bosses don't like surprises. If you've got a big idea, it's best to run it by your boss before a meeting. You don't want to embarrass yourself -- or the boss -- with an idea that's a politically touchy one.
  • Always thank others. Do you think you're the only one who hates meetings? Your co-workers often feel the same way, so show your appreciation for their thoughts or ideas. Stop colleagues briefly after a meeting and express your appreciation for their comments, even if you don't agree. That's a great way to establish rapport and strengthen connections with others -- and that will be a big help if you ever need support for an idea in the next meeting.

What other meeting suggestions do you have?

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