CG #29 – How to Avoid a Dreadful Meeting

Knowing what you want gives you all the power you need to avoid unproductive meetings.


“Discipline is knowing what you want.”

–Steve Chandler


Word Count: 700

Reading Time: Under two minutes

A consulting firm I work with asked me to join a 2-hour discussion on issues of culture and coaching at a client site.  I was relieved to have conflicts on both of the dates they offered.  I’ve never been able to talk about culture for more than 90 seconds before my mind drifts away.

“Go ahead without me,” I breezily suggested, and thought I was well out of it.

Nope.  The next email offered three more dates.  I was free for all of them.

Oh, (Expletive deleted.)

I switched to plan B, but my “May I please see an agenda with outcomes for the meeting?” yielded “ The client wants us to come and discuss culture and blah, blah.”  This was going to be harder than I thought.

I got two things from their response:  The sense that I was being difficult and would be blamed if we lost that client, and new information I could act on –  It was the client that wanted the meeting.

I sent the next email directly to the client and laid out my dilemma:  My time is at a premium right now because of – ironically – a program I’m writing about running productive virtual meetings.  While I didn’t want to appear uncooperative or unhelpful, I would need to see an agenda and outcomes for what would be a 4-hour time commitment.

That’s the nicest way I know to say “Prove this is a valuable use of my time.”

Then I offered to help with that agenda.

The client responded immediately with “That makes total sense.  I’d feel the same way.  And I’d love the agenda help.”  She went on to explain more about what she wanted out of the meeting.

“Great!  I think we can cut the meeting in half if we survey people ahead of time.  I’ll draft both today.”

You might be thinking “Liz, you got stuck with the meeting and the agenda – where is the good part?”  For me, this is a good trade-off.  Here’s my thinking:  I want to help my harried, hyper-busy client get what she needs.  She was about to eat up 4 hours of my time, not to mention the time I’d spend irritated about it before and after the meeting, so let’s say 6 hours.  I want to avoid that.

My “win” in this situation is to get to a better outcome in half the time.  In addition, I’ll have strengthened our relationship, my boundaries and my self-respect.

As of this writing, I’ve drafted a brief survey and suggested that surveying was a better next step than a meeting.  It took ten minutes to do and if she agrees it will save me most of a day.  Sending out this survey and tabulating the results beforehand will make the meeting much stronger.  It’s a win either way.

It’s Your Turn: Say No to Bad Meetings

Know what you want and need.   I want to be of service.  I want to protect my time and energy.  Therefore I need an agenda with outcomes.  I need clarity.  H.B. Karp defines power as “the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what’s available.”  Knowing what you want happens inside you.  Getting all of what you want is in your power

Say what you want without blame or judgment.  You don’t know what’s available, so why not ask?

Don’t settle for resentful compliance.  A friend recently told me about research that says resentment takes more of a toll on the body than guilt.  It’s always better to feel guilty or vulnerable than it is to simmer in resentment.  Take the chance to explore what is available.

Offer to help.  Decrease the distance between you with an offer.  I’ve turned nightmare meetings into fun founts of productivity this way.  Trading time for more energy is a win in my book.


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