Ask yourself

ask yourselfA wonderful thing happened in a meeting I attended last night. Someone asked a question. It wasn’t just any question either; this man admitted that he didn’t understand an issue and asked for it to be explained.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, consider this. The last time you were in a group setting and didn’t completely get it, did YOU do that? Or did you assume everyone else was on board and you didn’t want to look silly? Did you speak up and say Time out! Can we go over that again? Or did you text a trusted colleague and ask What is he talking about? Did you say This doesn’t completely make sense to me. Where did I get off track? Or did you sit quietly and make plans to do some homework after the meeting?

I know what I normally do.

The funny thing is, when the man at my meeting spoke up, “looking silly” didn’t even cross my mind. My first thought was that I was really glad he asked, because I didn’t completely understand the issue either. My next thought was that he either had a lot of guts or he was really, really comfortable with himself. Either way, I admired him for it.

And you’ll never believe what happened after that. Someone else asked a question. That lead to a really good discussion, which led to a more thorough understanding of the issue all around–and a much better final decision. I learned more in that meeting than in any of its predecessors.

All it took was one question. Don’t be afraid to ask.

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That dirty word

Ah, meetings. I could rant all day about them. I sit in too many; they go on too long; little gets done. Time management and focus issues seem to be the two driving factors, often combined with a liberal dose of posturing. Consider this if you don’t believe me: the following passage was listed as a requirement in a bid specification for one of my projects.

2.b. Do not raise issues at Progress meetings that do not involve other participants at that meeting, and that could be handled more efficiently at the level of the Vendor’s coordination with its own subvendors and suppliers.

Translation: stay on topic (focus) and don’t waste anyone’s time (time management).

Holy smokes. Since when do we have to spell that out? Shouldn’t that be common sense? Although I was flabbergasted to find this as part of the spec, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, Oh please, oh please, can’t we apply this to all meetings, everywhere?

I’ve been thinking about this for days. It has stuck with me so hard that I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I dreamed about it last night. (Please, no inferences about my lack of social life!) I woke up thinking that perhaps I could make a new career for myself as a meeting facilitator. I could hire myself out to various organizations just to lead meetings. As an outsider with no personal involvement in the organization or the topic, I could impartially keep the meeting on point. I wouldn’t accept the job without an agenda and a list of goals or necessary decisions to result from the meeting.

Actually, if more meetings had those items up front–an agenda and goals–they might be a lot more productive on their own. They wouldn’t need me, but then again, I already have a job.

Anyone have a meeting nightmare you’d like to share?