This post is about meetings at your job, but these tips also make sense in other contexts, like in the classroom or working groups for school projects, pretty much in any group situation.
But it doesn’t always work out that way. Meetings are also a place where people jockey for position, work out disagreements (nicely or not-so-nicely), and hurt each other’s feelings.
If you’re feeling annoyed or undermined at a meeting, consider whether any of these strategies are being aimed at you. And if you don’t want to annoy or undermine other people, avoid talking this way:
1. “I don’t need all the details. Let’s just get to the bottom line.” The speaker implies that others are quibblers and small-minded technicians, while deflecting the possible need to master complicated details himself.
2. “Well, these are the facts.” The speaker emphasizes that she attends to hard facts, while implying that others are distracted by prejudice, sentiment, or assumption.
3. “You might be right.” The speaker seem open-minded while simultaneously undermining someone else’s authority and credibility.
4. “I’m wondering about ____. Pat, please get back to us on this.” The speaker demonstrates his habit of reasoned decision-making, while making Pat (who may not actually report to him) do the necessary work and report back.
5. “You did a great job on that, Pat!” The speaker shows a positive attitude, while showing that she’s in the position to judge and condescend to Pat. (I must admit, I remember one incident where I did this very consciously. I was furious at someone, and at the next big meeting that we both attended, I gushingly complimented him in a way that drove him nuts.)
6. “I think what Pat is trying to say is…” The speaker shows that he’s a good listener and give credit to others, while demonstrating that he can take Pat’s simple thought further than Pat could.
7. “I can see why you might think that.” Variant: “I used to think that, too.” The speaker sounds sympathetic, while indicating that she’s moved far ahead in understanding.
Of course, a person could say all these things without being undermining. It depends on context and motivation. Still, it’s useful to think about how seemingly innocuous comments might carry an edge.
What other actions make you unhappy in a meeting? When two people write each other notes or whisper, when someone is obviously reading unrelated material, when people argue about philosophical matters irrelevant to the matter at hand, or surreptitiously check a phone? What am I forgetting? (For tips for running a good meeting, check here. For more ideas about how to be happier at work, check here.)