I have decided that I have become unemployable. This does not reflect some mid-life crisis of confidence, rather I have just realised that every career move I have made has been the result of near death experiences in meetings. Now no mad machete wielding colleague has jumped across the board table in response to one of my highly witty interjections, nor indeed have I had to remove the knife from the shoulder blades (that happens before and after meetings). Rather I have had to apply to myself the mental equivalent of a “Packer wacker” defibrillator to prevent a potentially fatal attack of boredom or I have had to execute the reverse Heinrich manoeuvre to block my throat to prevent an uncontrollable diatribe of derision and frustration.
For a start there are those people who haven’t got a clue how to run a meeting. They would not know a point of order from a standing order, and inevitably they end up chairing the meeting. The trouble is their idea of a chair, is the type that you sit in when you fly to London – in other words, you may as well settle in because you are going to be here for another 22 hours. So the chair hasn’t got a clue, and possesses the organisational prowess and sense of timing of a Qantas takeover bid. The only people I hate more than the meeting ignoramuses are those who know all the rules. And I mean all the rules.
This is the catastrophic bore who can tell you (and will do so at the drop of a piece of headwear) about the rules for getting the floor and the difference between when a debatable question is immediately pending and when an undebatable question is immediately pending and when no question is pending. It is a debatable point, no question about it, whether one’s only course of action is to lie down on the floor and go to sleep, or floor the bore and storm out.
At least it can be vaguely amusing to see the bore tear strips off the hapless chair who has about as much control over the proceedings as George Michael behind the wheel of a car. Even that scant pleasure is denied us when we have to sit in the dreaded teleconference. “Hello are we all here?”, “We don’t know David, how can we tell?”, “oh I am not sure, err..”, “why don’t you get everyone to go around and introduce themselves?”, “who said that?”, “It is David”, “David?”, “yes”, “oh hello David why don’t you start?”, “ Hello I am David”, silence,”Who wants to go next?”, “who said that?”, “I think it was David”, “yes it was David”, “which David?”, “David from Dapto”, “is there another David then?”, “yes me”, “who said that?”, “David”.. At this point you pop out to the shops, purchase a 4 litre cask of Premium Unleaded Fruity Lexia, come home, have a bath, and rejoin the conversation to hear David berating David the chair over a point of order regarding whether the last motion was passed on a show of hands, and if so who saw them….
Then there is all that false politeness in meetings. “David was talking about the Fig and Prune surprise package, and I think that is very worthy, and I’d just like to add to that David if I may, that we might want to consider the Rhubarb Brick”. Which is code for: your idea stinks and it obvious to any fool that my idea is a winner.
Meetings seem to have 5 purposes – to present the illusion to the slow-witted that the decisions haven’t already been made and that their view counts; to present the illusion to others that you are actually doing something about the problem; to present the illusion that the chairperson is really important and running the show; to provide people with an excuse to fly on expenses inter-state; or finally, to provide an excuse to wield power by forcing others to rearrange their schedules and lives on one’s say so. No real decisions get made in meetings other than personal ones such as to leave the company immediately or to take up a second career as a mass murderer.
The final word on meetings should go to author Douglas Coupland who said: “the three things you can’t fake are erections, competence and creativity. That’s why meetings become toxic they put uncreative people in a situation in which they have to be something they can never be. And the more effort they put into concealing their inabilities, the more toxic the meeting becomes. One of the most common creativity-faking tactics is when someone puts their hands in prayer position and conceals their mouth while they nod at you and say, ‘Mmmmmm. Interesting.’ If pressed, they’ll add, ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’ Then they don’t say anything else.”
Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.