Monday, November 10, 2008

The Monkeypants Guide to Surviving Meetings

I'm going to try to attempt to blog in the evenings this week due to the fact that I have a conference training thingy at work that is going to eat my life away for a week. On the plus side, I've been told that the food is good and I get fed, at least for lunch, every day. The downside is that I've also been told the training is boring and dry. So...while I will try to be a good little new employee, I have a feeling that my mind is going to start to wander as it always does when it's not terribly thrilled with paying attention, most commonly occuring during meetings.

Work meetings have always been hard for me. I usually like my actual job. I just despise meetings. Very rarely does anything actually get accomplished in a meeting. Instead, people talk about what should be accomplished but, inevitably, the people they will have to talk to to do any accomplishing aren't at the meeting. Which means another meeting will have to be set up to include that person. And then, sometimes, that person needs to talk to another person and so on and so forth. It ends up being a vicious cycle of meetings.

The worst are phone meetings. I hate phone meetings. I've sat through many a phone meeting in which we all have to dial a special number, go to a web page and then wait until everyone else arrives. Then the host of the meeting hits a magic button and all 'attendees' can see his or her computer screen. Sometimes, they were interesting. For about five minutes. The rest of the time, I would try very hard to pay attention but when the host of the meeting is spending fifteen minutes tweaking his screen so the program he's demonstrating runs right, it's quite understandable, I think, that I zone out. Sometimes I surf the internet. The bad part about this is that occasionally the host of the meeting will switch the setup so that my screen is the one everyone can see. I've had some near misses with those. Emailing with a friend in which you're mocking the host of the meeting is not a good idea if there's a chance everyone could read your screen. However, after a particularly near miss of getting caught being a naughty Monkeypants in a phone meeting, I took up other hobbies like paperclip sculpting, drawing with crayons and sudoku. Generally speaking, I was still quite able to get the gist of the meeting and find out what I was supposed to do in the last five minutes of the meeting so, you see, it all worked out.

Live meetings are a little more fun though. I make sure to take paperclips so that I can sculpt and occupy my hands when I am ready to doze off. I realized one day I wasn't the only one who was a bit bored in a meeting after I had sculpted a particularly fine little paperclip man. My coworker reached over, quietly took my man and hung him from a rubberband noose he'd just finished making complete with a paperclip scaffold. And yes, that is a true story.

My other meeting pasttimes include looking at the attendees and figuring out one of the following:

  • Which Harry Potter character would they be?
  • If they were an animal, which animal would they be?
  • What would be their karaoke song if criminals came in and held us at gunpoint, threatening to kill us if we didn't sing karaoke. (This, of course, would lead to the inevitable musings of what would cause the criminals would come into the meeting in the first place and what would they look like?)
  • What would they do if I decided to dance on the conference table like Michael Flatley and his Riverdance chronies. (I can't actually Riverdance. I just like the idea).
  • Who would I like to see naked? (Very cliche but it's SO hard to not go there when you're trying to NOT go there). The answer was usually a resounding no-one. I haven't had much luck in my offices where there is anyone I'd like to see naked or even just partially clothed. A sad fact, I know.

There were plenty of other daydreaming techniques I have. As a novelist/writer, meetings are an excellent way to solve writing dilemmas. More than one ephiphany has come during a meeting. In fact, I wrote the opening of my last novel while sitting through a particuarly boring meeting about hardware firewalls. My boss asked me to go in his place since he couldn't make it. He'd only signed up in the first place because there was a free lunch. Perfect place to start writing a new novel. I got a free Subway sandwich and chips, a break from work and a quiet place to write. And best of all, it looked like I was taking notes. Actually, that was a good meeting now that I think about it.

There are some tricks to being an effective meeting goer. Naturally, it involves looking like you're paying attention. This usually means you nod a lot at the speaker and make good eye contact. You look like you're taking notes, even if you're really making a shopping list for groceries to buy on the way home from work. Don't let your brain detach completely if there is a chance you will need to speak. This is tricky because sometimes you don't know when it will occur. If caught off guard, quickly glance down at the agenda to remind yourself what the meeting is about. Then look as though you're pondering something and drag yourself back to reality and find a way to pass the responsibility onto someone else. This is usually effective when you say something like, "Well, I know Frank was working on that and though I keep trying, he's reluctant to give me a response. I'll check with him as soon as I get back to the office." This not only buys you time but also has the bonus effect of making Frank look bad. Unfortunately, this sometimes means another meeting in your future to which Frank will be invited but, the general Monkeypants Rule of Meeting Survival is to always blame Frank. Or whoever your Frank might be.

Of course, there is another type of meeting- the motivational group meeting. My current job, so far, hasn't had any of these. My old job had yearly ones in which we'd be forced to get our entire department together and work in groups to promote unity, positivity and whatever slogans the managers had recently seen when browsing Successories for motivation. Personally, I prefer the demotivators but they didn't seem to go over so well with the managers.

And the problem with these motivational meetings is that no one really wants to be motivated. They want to continue to be bitter and angry because the managers are clueless as to the real problems they face on a daily basis. They don't want to get together in pre-arranged, specifically-manufactured-to-make-coworkers-who-are-enemies-get-along-for-an-hour groups to make up songs that are supposed to be funny, clever and gently mock the daily activities of the department. They don't want to sing Kumbaya for an hour together because after that hour is up, Coworker X will still be a pompous twit, Coworker Y a lazy but slick politician who manages to do nothing and still reap promotions and rewards and Coworker Z will still be playing computer games all day long while the rest of the office has to pick up the slack because everyone knows it's useless to say anything.

All in all, you probably figured out that I'm not a huge fan of The Meeting. I don't mind small meetings that have a point. I don't mind if there's a real, honest purpose to having a meeting. I especially don't mind if, at the end of the meeting, there is a cold, hard solution to a problem on the table, or, at the very least, a result that doesn't call for another meeting but gives the attendees a reason for being in that room for an hour.

Fortunately, I haven't had too many meetings lately. Instead, I've had training. At least with that, I learn something...theoretically. I'm hoping this week is educational, even if it is dry. At the very least, I'm looking for a new writing project so maybe I can come up with one. As long as the food is good and there's coffee, I can survive.

As long as they don't ask us to sing.

1 comment:

frydzz said...

Reading about your coworker X,Y and Z made me want to own a red stapler, join the racquetball club and have 2 slices of bacon on a croissant. Very strange.....