how much talking in a meeting is too much?

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A reader writes:

I’m trying to figure out if I’m a crabby cynic or if I’m missing some genetic code that makes people enjoy sitting in meetings.

I work in a very busy legal department in a non-attorney role. Too often I have observed that when a new process or other change is announced at a department meeting, lots of people join in to agree with the change. The general counsel will say, “We are instituting a new process to facilitate xyz because blah, blah, blah.” Then four or five people in the meeting will jump in and expand on why this idea is such a good one. It’s the same idea when management decides not to pursue something. “We are not doing abc because of blah, blah, blah.” “Good!! It’s a bad idea because of this!!” “And that!” “And the other!” Several of these people are on the Legal Management Team and would have been included in the discussions leading up to the decision. I can understand a question asking why management decided to do x instead of y, but is there a reason I need to hear six reasons why something is a good idea in addition to the two reasons provided by the general counsel in his original comments?

People complain about how many meetings we have and how long they last, and then they keep talking in the meetings. I speak up when I have a question but other than that, I keep quiet.

I’m at the bottom of the food chain, so I’m not asking for help in managing how the general counsel runs a meeting. I’m asking for a different perspective so that maybe I can get onboard with the idea that saying a good idea is a good idea multiple times is a valuable way to spend time.

They’re doing it because they’re insecure, want to seem/feel important, and mistakenly think that opining on everything being said will raise their stature. They’ve confused number of contributions in a meeting with value of contributions.

Or they’re just talkers, and no one has asked them to stop.

Or they’re blowhards.

Or — less likely but still possible — this sort of discussion is actually contributing something that’s both worthwhile and intended because part of the purpose of these meetings is to generate buy-in and/or to hear people’s reactions to these decisions. That’s less likely, since you note that some of the culprits are people who were part of making these decisions, but it’s possible and worth considering, especially since you might not be well-positioned to see that as clearly from your vantage point.

But unless that last explanation is correct, your office is doing a few things wrong:

1. They’re using meetings for announcements. Meetings shouldn’t generally be used for announcements; they should be used for things that require discussion (or for things that are sensitive enough that they require meeting in person). If they’re announcing things there because they think people may have questions about a new policy or process, that’s fine — but then that brings us to the next point:

2. They need to set better meeting norms. That could mean laying out clear time limits for each topic at the outset (either in an agenda or verbally at the start of the meeting — “we’re going to spend two minutes on some quick announcements and then move into discussing X…” or even just “I want to keep this brief because I know everyone is busy”), or it could mean saying something like, “We have a lot to get through, so I’m going to ask that people hold questions and comments until we’ve run through these first three items.” It could even mean that the person leading the meeting says at the start, “We’ve traditionally had a lot of people chiming in with their opinions on decisions. If you feel strongly about something, please raise it, but otherwise I want to be sensitive to people’s time and try to hold this to X minutes.”

(It’s important to navigate that carefully though, because you don’t want to suppress useful input or make people feel like you don’t want to hear their input, as bad things will come of that over the long-term. There’s a balance to getting this right; if you go overboard in either direction, it tends to have a disruptive effect.)

3. And they probably need to change their norms around how often people are meeting and how long meetings last. If people are complaining about spending too much time in meetings and a large chunk of meeting time is taken up by people talking aimlessly, they need an organization-wide commitment to cutting the amount of time meetings take up. The only real way to do that is with visible commitment from the top, and the organization’s leaders need to model better meeting habits themselves to show that they mean it, since people will follow their cues.

{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Gwen Soul

    This is going to sound weird, but I also work in a company that has way too many meetings. When we switched email programs the originally program had the default meeting last 1 hour, then the new one came and when you schedule a meeting it defaulted to 30 minutes. I have soon so many more 30 minute meetings. It has actually helped a lot.

    Reply
  2. Kai

    The need to feel important part resonates with me hard. I see that a lot in my office culture. Maybe it doesn’t do much for the room, but people feel like they’re being part of the team if they echo whatever the boss has just said.

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      OMG yes, the chest-puffing and bootlicking. If I could catalog all the hours I’ve lost to watching it…ugh, I don’t want to do that. It’d be too depressing.

      Reply
      1. Kai

        And it’s funny, too, because the reason people do this stuff usually ends up having the opposite effect of what they want. If someone spends a lot of meeting time not saying constructive things but just trying to puff themselves up, we can see right through it!

        Reply
    2. Lynn Whitehat

      I think it’s common for people to get feedback from their managers that they shouldn’t just sit quietly in meetings, it’s important to “contribute!” and “look engaged!” so everyone knows they aren’t daydreaming about penguins or something. But sometimes there is nothing to say really, so you get a bunch of inane chatter.

      Reply
      1. ggg

        I work very closely with an overtalker. He often asks me why I didn’t say anything during the meeting. Um, because before I get a chance to say anything, you have already said it, and also seven more things which may or may not have anything to do with anything.

        He also overtypes, so we have reached a happy agreement in which I edit thirty pages of his stream of consciousness down to a handful of well organized paragraphs.

        Reply
  3. Chrissi

    The one thing that I’m grateful our (government) agency is really good at is keeping meetings short. Especially in my region’s office. Our commissioner requires that most normal meetings be kept to an hour and is mightily displeased if they go over (unless of course it’s an in-depth topic that truly requires more time). And she keeps them to a minimum in frequency as well.

    Reply
  4. Alien vs Predator

    I have worked in very few places where people knew how to run efficient meetings. I agree with AAM that meetings in many places are simply a venue for people to gladhand, show off, or try to boost their image. It is very, very frustrating.

    The only way I know to combat this is to use good meeting norms as AAM mentions for the meetings that I schedule.

    A few things I try to do:
    1) Like Gwen says above, plan for 30 mins instead of an hour. An hour+ is for a “long meeting”
    2) Send out an agenda in advance so people can come prepared with thoughts and questions. This might help cut down on people talking just to “be heard” and lead to more thoughtful input.
    3) Make the agenda a list of questions to be answered/issues to be resolved. Not a list of “topics to discuss”. Once a resolution is found for each issue you move on to the next thing.
    4) Start on time. If people are late, they are late.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    I love that Demotivator poster: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

    I inherited my disdain for meetings from my father, but I think I’m also suffering from PTSD from our meetings at OldJob. Somehow a weekly staff meeting with nine people regularly turned into an hourlong (or more) extravaganza that included, but wasn’t limited to, discussions of vacations, people’s children’s illnesses, what restaurant people went to last night, a rating of the baristas from the Starbucks next door, and gossip about previous or absent co-workers.

    I’ve only been at NewJob a week and a half, but at our first staff meeting (at which we overview what we’re working on for the week), it was explained to me that we should only discuss things that are relevant to the group as a whole, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Reply
    1. Koko

      My team’s weekly meetings are also focused on topics of interest to the whole team, so someone whose projects are mostly self-contained will often say, “I’ve got nothing major this week,” when the round-robin gets to them. But I don’t think we’d ever do away with the 5-10 minutes of social chatter about vacations and weekend happenings at the beginning of the meeting. It’s a Monday meeting and it’s one of only two meetings each week the entire team attends, so it’s nice to have 5-10 min at the start of each week to build/reinforce camaraderie among the team. We’ve still got the whole week ahead of us at that point, and even with the chatter, we usually get out of that meeting early every week.

      Now, my major pet peeve is when a meeting is supposed to end with a period for questions, and the meeting is running over its allotted time, and people keep asking questions. Even if they’re relevant to the entire group, at that point I want another meeting scheduled or I want the questions asked/answered over a group email thread. If my schedule says I was supposed to be free by 4:00pm and have an hour left to finish things before the end of the day, I will feel like I’m about to scream and crawl out of my skin if a hand raises at 4:01pm even if the question being asked is a pretty good one.

      Reply
      1. Sparrow

        Yes! I hate when people continue to ask questions once the scheduled time is over. Glad to see I’m not the only one bothered by that!

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social chatter! It’s just the fact that said chatter was taking up 2/3 of the meeting that made me want to throw things.

        Reply
  6. steve g

    I agree with OP being annoyed and AAM’s bullet points. I also think there is room for these types of discussions right before a decision is made.

    I participate in regulatory meetings that – if u didn’t know the people, their backgrounds, etc sound as you described. However, having gone to meetings with the same group for years, I see the meetings completely differently. I am thinking ‘oh that is surprising, 2 years ago Mr. X was against that change now he is pro, what changed” or “oh, that person knows more than I thought, I thought he only did (some other thing).”

    All of my coworkers that call into these meetings (of electric grid regulators) hang up and tell me the calls are about nothing, because they are missing so much subtext…

    Reply
  7. fposte

    Or they’re just academics, living in fear that some nuance will have gone unparsed.

    I love my colleagues, but man, we’re not good at remembering the process is not the goal.

    Reply
    1. Jillociraptor

      I actually laughed out loud at this. I don’t work with academics, but we have a similar issue here, just with a different root. There’s a lot of focus on seeing others’ perspectives and getting a lot of consensus, such that we have rabbit hole meetings that start with “Here is a problem; what actions should we consider?” and devolve to “We can’t do X because this one specific constituent will hate it.” “Well, we can’t NOT do X because this other specific constituent will hate it!” etc. The talking/angsting sometimes feels more important than actually getting to a solution. We sometimes have to have meetings kind of like the one the OP described to describe the far-reaching implications of the strategy and forestall the minor exception death spiral.

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      1. Kelly L.

        It’s like some corners of the internet, where if you say “I walked to the store today,” you practically have to include footnotes stating that you looked both ways before you crossed the street, wore supportive shoes, bought only the finest macrobiotic organic groceries once you got there, and so on, or else the whole thread will devolve into nitpicking about irrelevant stuff.

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      2. Gene

        You’re from Seattle where the process is The Most Important Thing? It doesn’t matter if a thing never gets done, so long as we are Working Toward Consensus on it.

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        1. Windchime

          Ha, yep. I’m near Seattle and many of our meetings are like this. If academics is bad, then IT is worse because every word has to be extremely accurate or else someone (myself included) will need clarification. “That shouldn’t count” turned into a 10 minute discussion today because what the person really meant was that we shouldn’t *consider* “that”, not that we literally shouldn’t *count* it. Precision, people!

          Meetings wear me out. Sometimes I just want to work.

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        2. Kelly L.

          I’m not from Seattle, but I used to be in a community organization that did this. Our meetings were about three hours long and stuff would stay on the agenda for a year or more and just get hashed and rehashed and rerehashed again and again.

          Reply
    2. Anonymous

      My SO is an academic and this describes everything. The process of even making the grocery list.

      (Also, have there been a lot more posts recently?)

      Reply
      1. Cassie

        My boss runs a general meeting with academics monthly and he’s pretty good the meetings short. He also cut the meeting to just 1 hour instead of its previous 2 hours and people love to point out when the meeting is adjourned at 58 minutes.

        The problem, though, is that we go through the topics so quickly and nothing really gets discussed. I sometimes feel like every topic ends with “we’ll schedule another meeting to discuss this, so let’s move on”. Which is okay, I guess, but some of those “other meetings” never happen or they don’t happen for months or years later. And they are issues that are important, but boring (to the academics).

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          1. fposte

            Oh, God, I went to an alternative high school that governed by consensus. It made me appreciate dictatorship.

            Reply
            1. Chinook

              “Oh, God, I went to an alternative high school that governed by consensus. It made me appreciate dictatorship.”

              I had a high school teacher lead us to the conclusion that a benevolant dictatorship is the most efficient way to run anything after he gave us a project where we ruled our own fictional countries and they he would play god and create havoc in the form of famine, war, protests and trade agreements. IIt was fascinating to do but those of who us who wanted a democracy (because teens love the idea of democracy) became jealous of the one guy who was a dictator and could just flat out declare rationing and civility because he was able to follow through with every one of his policies (ours were voted down about half the time).

              On a side note, he actually had a bunch of 16 year olds (most of whom were in a non-academic stream) sit in rapt attention as he explained what caused currency rates and inflation to rise and fall because we were all trying to figure out how to get more money into our economies so we could stop the darn rioting in the streets.

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              1. Sarahnova

                Dude, that sounds awesome. I want to run that exercise with adults.

                (Except if the dictator always wins. That would not work so well for encouraging people to have more effective management styles. :))

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          2. OhNo

            Oh lord, I’m starting to get flashbacks to my college now. Any kind of academic meeting there was a special level of hell.

            Reply
        1. Chloe

          I convene meetings with legal academics and its a nightmare. Some are efficient but others just adore the sound of their own voices. As a lawyer I’d say generally there are two types of lawyers – the very logical and efficient type, and the very verbose and theatrical type. The second flourish in academia (and the courtroom).

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      1. Rebecca

        YES! I was going to chime in that I went from working at a courthouse to working in a university and meetings are the same. With the lawyers at the courthouse, in particular, we had to repeatedly tell them, “Stop trying to sell the rest of us on this idea! We already all agreed it was a good idea and we’re going ahead with it!”

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    3. the_scientist

      Good lord, yes. Marathon meetings and marathon meetings resulting in zero decisions and 300+ tangential discussions about minutiae are an ongoing issue here.

      Reply
        1. Victoria, Please

          Because so often what people are fighting about has very little impact in the long run. Does it *really mater* whether your non-science majors take “Black Holes, Galaxies, and Time Travel” or “Dinosaurs and Disasters” for their one science credit? Not to the students and their learning, no (unless one class is demonstrably better).

          But it matters immensely because the fannies in seats drive the departmental funding levels, and maybe Physics instead of Geology will get the new faculty line *this* year and the other department will have to wait until next year.

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    4. Artemesia

      LOL. I belonged to the board of an organization that had annual meetings (we were from all over) and the meetings would be all about process until I was ready to scream since we had so many things we really needed to accomplish. They then hired a consultant who specialized in helping boards be more effective and they gave the Meyers Briggs and arranged people along a continuum as part of the analysis phase. I and one other guy were literally in one corner of the room and everyone else was in the opposite corner of the room. So all the ‘mind #$%@ing’ neatly fit their personality types and drove our types nuts.

      Normally I laugh at this kind of pop psych crap — but it was in this case a real eye opener and did lead to creating some more effective practices once the group in that corner realized they were stroking themselves and not getting organizational work done.

      I have since used an instrument that is less complex when working with groups and find that recognizing that some people tend to be creative/divergent thinkers and some tend to be plan the work, work the plan and get the job done, helps teams organize effectively — appreciating that efficient types can jump the gun and run in the opposite direction and that creative types can chew up time running in circles — and that each contributes value to the other.

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    5. AcademicAnon

      I hate to do round robin at meetings. as I do basically the same thing every week, so I have no update (my update is: my stuff is either dead or alive or mostly dead or mostly alive or I don’t know wtf they’re doing). And then I have to hear about that what did and didn’t work for someone’s else experiments.. that I’ve heard the exact same thing year to year just from different people…gets old quick.

      Reply
  8. jag

    I think speaking up a lot is not a bad thing, as long as it is brief and you’re not doing it about almost every single thing. Repeating what someone said in your own words is a waste of time, but saying “I agree with that Mary said” or even “I’ve nothing to add” conveys information and lets the meeting move on.

    Reply
  9. LMW

    Another motivation could be that they’re showing unity. But that’s really only necessary for contentious issues that have sparked a lot debate. I’ve been in several situations where I’ve seen the conversations behind the decisions take forever, and when the decision is finally announced, everyone feels like they have to verbally endorse it to show publicly that they are on board.

    Reply
    1. Puddin

      I was thinking something similar. It could very well be a change management technique they are deliberately employing (albeit somewhat poorly).

      As far as how to deal with this when you have no ability to facilitate the meetings, I am in steve g’s camp. Try to see what you can learn from how people speak, their non verbals, word they use, etc. See what patterns emerge, gain some insight, and perhaps use this to your benefit.

      One other thought, and this is dependent upon your culture…can you state that you have x minutes and then will have to leave to get x done so could we please get to the most important items first? This might alter the agenda, timing, or the lengthy responses.

      Reply
    2. Ann O'Nemity

      And sometimes the showing of unity is pre-planned. My big boss actually asks other members of management to show their support during the announcement of contentious issues.

      Reply
  10. Student

    While you cannot personally effect much change in how your organization approaches meetings, there is one thing you can do to start dealing with the problem and its impact on your personal productivity.

    Talk to your boss and figure out how many of these meetings you can skip. Your boss may require you to continue attending, and then you have to suck it up. However, there’s a decent chance that he’d be happy to have you keep working through most of these, especially if you have a role where you’re largely expected to obey the decisions instead of discuss them. Make a decent argument that you’d be more productive if your department sends a representative to these meetings while everyone else continues work, so the representative can send out a SHORT department email with the important announcements.

    Reply
  11. LQ

    A couple things.

    Since the meetings you talked about were here’s what we are doing and why kind of meetings it is very possible that your organization has in the past pushed out changes that people didn’t get on board with and this is what they think will get people on board with the change. Explaining what and why etc. It may very well be that in the past people at your org harrumphed and said, “I don’t like change, no one ever tells me anything about it, why did they do that?!” And this was the leadership backlash to that. If this is the case maybe “I appreciate the information about the process, but I do trust that the committee is making the correct decisions, maybe getting the information in email would be less time consuming for you.”

    The other is attitude. Yes, meetings stink. Some are good, but those are few and far between, and not what it seems you have. If you are hourly then a reminder to yourself that this is what your boss is paying you to do and quite frankly if she wants to waste your time in this meeting that’s fine. (This I have to do when I sit and listen to my boss ramble on for an hour or more trying to put together a coherent thought.)

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    In school, there was always ‘That Guy’ who would ask obvious questions in a transparent attempt to suck up or try to sound smart. He always did this right as the discussion was winding down and the professor was considering letting class out early.

    In my experience, there’s always ‘That Guy’ in meetings, too.

    Reply
    1. Puddin

      /cringe I used to do this. I wanted people in the room to know that I knew what I was talking about soooo badly. But every time I did this, I felt inept. Could not figure out what the disconnect was.

      Then I stumbled across this quote:
      “It is better to have people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
      Mark Twain
      I

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    2. fposte

      Don’t forget “That Guy” who raises objections to the process/publication/plan that got hashed out in his presence several meetings ago without his uttering a peep at the time.

      Reply
      1. Us, Too

        This is why everyone is expected to “weigh in” in the meetings I have. If someone is only asking questions and not agreeing or disagreeing, I specifically ask if they are OK with the proposal or not. I much prefer that someone volunteers their thoughts as OP describes, but if they don’t, I’m going to ask.

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      2. OhNo

        My office has “That Guy” who has really strong opinions on processes/changes/work that does not affect him in any way… which he feels the need to address at great length and volume because he “cares about his job”.

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      3. Windchime

        Or “That Guy” who sits in the meeting where we discuss that we are going to lock the code set at noon, and then is surprised and shocked when the code set is locked at noon.

        Reply
  13. Big Tom

    It took me a long time to realize this, but there are also people who process incoming information this way. My SO reacts like that and it’s how she internalizes and assimilates new info. She can’t do it in her head as well as she can out loud, and so in meetings like this it comes out looking very similar to butt kissing yes-man type comments, because she’s thinking through the implications of what she hears and as she makes each connection she talks about it to solidify.

    Of course some people are butt kissers, and some people CAN make those connections in their head, but don’t know how to have thoughts and not say them out loud. These are all separate issues that could be happening simultaneously in different coworkers.

    Reply
    1. jag

      Even if that is true, it’s a huge waste of people’s time to have them listen to your information processing.

      Reply
    2. Chloe

      My husband does this too, and it drives me a little crazy. I often find myself saying ‘is there an echo in here’ as he literally repeats what I just said.

      Me: “girls, its time for a shower, lights out in 30 minutes”
      Him: “girls, go for your shower, lights out in 30 minutes”
      Me: *trying not to feel irritated* “I just said that!”
      Him: “I’m just re-inforcing what you said”
      Me: *grinding teeth quietly*

      Reply
  14. OP

    It is the General Counsel who holds these meetings – often without an agenda!! I am friends with his Administrative Assistant. He opens each meeting with a power point, the first slide of which is the agenda. I’m going to ask her about distributing the agenda in advance or maybe adding time limits to the agenda.

    I like the idea of observing meeting participants to see what I can learn about them, how they process information and how they treat each other.

    But I still wish the windbags would stop being so blustery!!

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    1. annie

      Yes to time limits on the agenda items! I started doing that and it makes it so much easier to move on – and also alerts you if you’ve got too much on the agenda and need to break it up into two meetings.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        If you have time limits, don’t forget to ensure that there is a clock in the eye line of the chair of the meeting (so at the back of the room). Once someone hung a clock at the back of our church, our priest’s homilies started being only 15 minutes long (vs. 20+). When you are tlaking, it is very hard to judge how much time has flown by.

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    2. Chloe

      I agree 100% that meetings can get out of control and need to be reigned in, but sometimes there is more to a meeting than moving through the agenda.

      At an old job at a law firm it used to drive me crazy that our weekly team meetings would run for up to two hours – they were held at 4.30pm so any overrun ate into our own time and not the firm’s precious billable hours. After we’d worked through the current work on hand, conversation rambled on and on with no discernable purpose or goal. Eventually I realised that the partners saw this as the team bonding time, as we didn’t spend any other time together as a whole team with no other distractions.

      Not saying thats whats necessarily happening with you, but team meetings can sometimes be about just being a team and having discussions that can lead anywhere and might eventually lead to interesting or worthwhile conversations that you didn’t necessarily anticpate.

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    3. Cassie

      Definitely add time limits to the agenda – and the shorter the time limit, the better. If the speaker feels that they have to be brief (e.g. only have 5 minutes), they’ll at least try to speed things along. If you give the speaker half an hour, they’ll feel like they have plenty of time.

      It’s also good for the person running the meeting (or someone who is high enough on the ladder) to police the meeting. If there’s no clock in the room, they should have a watch and keep track of time. When my boss runs meetings, he’ll stand up about 1 minute before time is up so the speaker can see that he/she is about to get the boot. This also lets the other people know that it’s time to move on to the next topic so they’ll stop trying to squeeze in questions.

      Reply
  15. Malissa

    I think the problem here is that lawyers are generally paid to be right. So they like being right as often as possible.
    I would say the only way to fight this is to find a way to remind them that meetings aren’t billable hours.

    Reply
  16. LD

    In my experience and observation, this kind of thing is fairly typical in offices where people are concerned about the expectations of the senior person in the room. It’s not always that they are insecure, but through their experience they’ve learned that the senior person making the announcements expects that all other people will show support. I’ve seen it in action in law offices. The most senior person makes an announcement and everyone reporting to that person must agree with the announcement and make positive comments in the meeting, otherwise, senior person doesn’t feel that their was enough support and consensus from the management team.
    I’m not saying this is necessarily what is going on in the OP’s office, or that it is the most effective way to make announcements. I’m just saying that it is one possibility and I’ve seen it in action and in more than one type of office. Something for the OP to consider as she/he thinks about the culture of the leadership team in the office and how that might influence or control the way these meetings are conducted.

    Reply
    1. JB

      +1 Yep, I’ve sat through a lot of meetings like this. It’s understood that certain higher ups need their direct reports to speak up in agreement.

      Reply
  17. Not So NewReader

    Saying that something is a good idea over and over is a huge waste of time.

    However, rather than focusing on one time suck, why not just keep it a general question of “What can we do to make our meetings more efficent, shorter and more meaningful?”

    Let the talkers gradually come to their own conclusions. Remember, they will need to talk about it first. This could be a while. ;)

    One thing that helped me with these wastes of time is that I told myself “This is the closest I can get to doing NO work without going home! And they pay me for it~ hee-hee-hee.”

    Reply
  18. FX-ensis

    People who host meetings should be trained as such.

    Side conversations are a no-no, and should be stamped out.

    I think for a work meeting, there are/should be some basic groundrules such as respect, no talking over others, no belittling others, no dismissing others’ points or being overly congratulatory, and no shouting or getting angry (without good cause).

    Reply
    1. FX-ensis

      I realised I hadn’t answered the question fully.

      Discussing an issue is obviously the point, but there should be a simple format – discussion, examination of all nuances, conclusion, then action.

      Then it depends on personalities involved. Some persons are either more confident or more conscientious than others, or simply understand the topic at hand better, or know the work processes better. So with good faith they may dominate discussions, or be more open to discuss points at hand. That said, there has to be a limit, and the meeting head has to ensure the limit is reached. Raising points a lot is fine, if they are germane. If a person just likes the sound of his or her voice, then no, the meeting head needs to stamp that out. IMHO, the OP’s situation is more of the latter.

      Reply
  19. stellanor

    I have sort of the opposite problem: I have some coworkers who LOVE MEETINGS. Basically the way they bond with each other, generate trust, and feel like they’re collaborating is by having meetings. A lot of meetings. That drag on forever. And generally end with scheduling another meeting to continue what went on in the current meeting. I once had over 7 hours of meetings in a two-week period about one powerpoint deck we were making. All issues covered therein could have been solved via judicious use of track changes.

    The problem I have is that when I’ve pushed back (“I think we’re overmeeting about this, can we try to resolve some of these issues over email?”) they’ve not budged, and when I pushed back HARD (“I’m sorry but I really just don’t have room in my schedule for more meetings on this issue. I’m happy to discuss over email.”) they took it as “stellanor dislikes us and dislikes conversing with us and that’s why she doesn’t want to come to meetings” and everyone was horribly offended.

    This isn’t even the culture of meetings in my organization, or with the higher-ups on my team. There’s just a critical mass of my peers on my team who for some reason love sitting on conference calls all day. I’m scheduled for a conference call next week to discuss what to put on a wiki page. I don’t even know what to do about this.

    Reply
    1. FX-ensis

      Difficult situation. Could you raise this with your manager? It may be dangerous as they could turn against you. Another alternative is to ask for a transfer, apply for another job in the organisation, or leave for another organisation.

      Reply
  20. Amanda

    Meetings at my workplace are unbearable. We have two weak leaders in charge who cannot run a meeting. There’s always an agenda and we rarely get beyond the first one or two bullet points. The first part of each weekly standing meeting is always taken up with general social chit chat and personal anecdote telling. I hate being a crab about that because the people are so pleasant and some seem to be enjoying the time for socializing. But seriously, the meetings always run late which then cause me to be late for my first appointments of the day. I’m not coming to the meeting to catch up on what Suzy’s son did yesterday after school or John’s personal beliefs on xyz subject. It’s so aggravating for me. We rarely get anything accomplished and the hour long weekly meeting feels like such a waste. I wish I had more power to change this culture as others have also complained about the time wasted. But then next meeting they’re right in there wasting time with the rest of them!

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      We had a meeting today where we had a bunch of issues to get through. I was at the whiteboard sketching something out and someone came in with a big jar of snacks. So as I was talking and writing, all the sudden everyone was excited about the snacks and making little comments and laughing and shaking out the snacks. I’m afraid I snapped and said something like, “Can we be done with the snacks pretty soon here?” I mean, seriously…..if everyone is just going to snack and have conversations, I’ll just go back to my desk and work.

      Reply
  21. GreatLakesGal

    My job does the “meetings as announcements” thing, and feedback is expected. I think this leads to over-commenting–I mean, what else can folks do after an announcement regarding a merger or an already-accomplished change in operations, other than chime in “So say we all!”

    And whoever decided that conference calls were better than email? I have one tomorrow that consists of 5 people staring at a locked spreadsheet and reading the numbers out loud to each other via teleconference.

    Reply
  22. Anon

    Another possibility: Being vocal in meetings is rewarded or even expected in company culture. At one job, I was explicitly told that I was expected to throw out ideas and speak up a lot during meetings. I’m an introvert and my good ideas that got implemented continued to come while I ruminated on the topic after the meeting, but I suddenly got a lot more credit for being a great “idea person” when I started saying stuff for the hell of it in meetings.

    It’s kind of like college classes where they grade your “participation” by quantity rather than quality of speaking up in class – everyone is too busy thinking of stuff to say for the hell of saying it to really contemplate the material and come up with something new to contribute, and you wind up with 10 people saying “I agree too, because -some marginally different reason from why the person before agrees-.”

    Reply
      1. Clerica

        Introverts are usually drained by interaction with others, or even just by being in a room full of other people’s energy. They’re going to do their best and clearest thinking while alone and many communicate much better by email or one on one with certain people they’re more comfortable around.

        Reply
      2. Anon

        Our creativity generally functions best while we are alone, thinking. That’s how I have my best ideas. We may need to think through something completely before we can verbalize it well. I can speak in a meeting, of course, I’m just not going to have my best ideas there, and my ability to think strategically and come up with creative ideas was what was being judged.

        Extroverts’ creativity tends to be best stimulated with other people, talking through things. Thus, they can generate their best ideas in a meeting. This is all “in general” and introverts can sometimes benefit from collaborating and extroverts from thinking through things alone, of course.

        Reply
    1. Clerica

      As soon as I read the post, I was thinking of the classes I’d take online where you had to post to the forum x times a week (so many new topics and then so many replies to others). It’s not like a blog where you can scroll along until a comment jumps out at you that you have a germane response to…or, you know, go days or weeks without saying anything. No, you have to respond so many times no matter how inanely. And they have to be a certain word count and contain the nebulous “advancement of the topic at hand.” So you end up with these inane and pompous-sounding responses like “That is an excellent point, Wakeen! Something very similar and yet, in its own way, unique happened to me when I was swimming with the sharks as part of Chocolate Teapots Inc.’s retreat one year…”

      Reply
  23. So Very Anonymous

    OK, I didn’t want to say this earlier because I was at work, but we have the opposite problem where I work. Our “official” meetings are nothing but announcements. Think the “football” voice from George Carlin’s routine “Football vs. Baseball.” Even when there is supposed to be “discussion” on an issue, the environment is so toxic that everyone is afraid to volunteer any kind of opinion and people just literally stare ahead of themselves or at the table in stony silence. Even though there’s obvious tension in the air, the silence then gets taken as assent or indifference. At our last “official” meeting, where we had to discuss a controversial point, because one person (not a director) wanted to dissolve a governance committee, this person stated that since everyone was obviously indifferent to this committee because no one was saying anything, we might as well just get rid of the committee. People weren’t at all indifferent — we’ve just all seen too many people get slammed for volunteering opinions.

    Most “unofficial” meetings I’ve been to here (i.e., committee meetings, etc.) have been fine and productive, though granted, I’m a person who thinks meetings are valuable when they’re done well. I have fabulous meetings with two women I collaborate with — all three of us are very chatty, but we also get huge amounts done in our meetings. If people are repeating themselves needlessly, that’s not good. But I do think there needs to be space for actual discussion. I know I’d prefer to be someplace where people actually talked in meetings.

    Reply
  24. Another Anonymous Person

    Just take a deep breath and be glad you’re not in the meetings I attend. They consist of the presenter, four side discussions and another four “participants” on smart phones. No one seems bothered by this excpet me (the only one listening to the presenter), not event the presenter. Did I forget to mention the groups joining the meeting remotely and having their own side discussions?

    Reply

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