- Wise Words -
by fergus mellon
We all complain that we have too many meetings. There’s even that nice cartoon that asks the question "Are you lonely? Tired of working on your own? If so hold a meeting?"
With many professionals professing their dislike of meetings it can be easy to not just think they are a waste of time, but also be sloppy in how you approach the organization of a meeting or how you respond to that invite (you know, the one you don't want to attend!).
This is not a piece on “meeting overload”. I am writing with an acceptance of the value of meeting with colleagues to solve a business problem and/or impart knowledge to others. We are not going to change the practice of meetings here, so instead this is a piece around how to be smart in both setting meetings up and how to respond to the members of your team to ensure you are being respectful.
Why write something on this?
How people respond to meetings is a pet peeve of mine, so you can think of it as a bit of therapy! In addition, I have seen how the lack of calendar etiquette is prevalent and so want to set out simple best practice that we can all adopt it and be more effective in the workplace.
Calibration: What to Stop...
Asking permission. If you want to set up time to discuss an issue do not waste an email saying “is it ok if I set up time?”
If you do this you are wasting the person’s time. They have to respond and say “yes”. Be proactive and instead just say “I will put time in for us to discuss.” If the person you are talking to doesn’t want to meet (the 1 in 10) you will soon know about it. Better to be the proactive “go-getter” than the “ask for permission-er”!
Be a diva. Do not start or respond to an email saying “Please set up time to discuss. My calendar is up-to-date.” Ugh. This is a sad power play move typically deployed by juniors and/or those trying to prove themselves. If you want to have a meeting set the time up yourself. It is really easy to do. The self-confident professionals I have worked with typically say “I will set-up time to discuss this.” Do this and you will look far more confident and “powerful”.
Stop the bee-hatching! Do not complain if you are invited to a meeting. You may feel that complaining about the volume of meetings you have makes you look like a leader-type who is indispensable. It doesn’t. Instead be glad that your contribution is asked for.
“Just” decline. I cannot, cannot believe it when someone declines a meeting without both giving a reason and proposing a new time. Giving “the why” is a professional courtesy - do it! Likewise propose a new time that works for both of you if you cannot make a meeting.
No Show. If you accept the meeting, show up. By being the no-show you are wasting the organizer’s time as well as everyone else’s. Be there, don't be square!
Be clear why you need a meeting. If you are asking for people’s time, respect it! In your invite or background email set a clear agenda, talk to key participants ahead of time so that they know it’s important to you plus they can then prepare for the meeting.
Get the time right. Ensure that you are scheduling the meeting during “normal business hours”. If you are in San Francisco and want to speak to someone in London, get a time that will work for both of you. If you are going to speak with someone in France or Spain who has different lunchtime traditions to you, try to accommodate these unless the need to meet is truly urgent.
Be on time. If you are asking others for their time, respect that and make sure you are not late to your own party. Get to the room early if you are going to be projecting your screen so you can set it.
These are the basics around meeting communication. For more on how to actually hold an effective meeting see Running Meetings HBR 20-Minute Manager Series or see Martin Leuw's column on the topic.
Related column: "In the Zoom? How to get real results from virtual meetings."