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Survival Tips for Boring Meetings

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Linda was stuck in another l-o-n-g meeting.  She had a desk full of her own paperwork back in her office and the person at the front of the room was droning on with another lengthy report.  Or she gets sandwiched between conversations around the table about minute details that ultimately make little difference.

Tick, tock…  Tick, tock…  Seconds…minutes…seeming like hours.  She wants to scream!

She thinks, “Man! This school could be so much better if people would just ‘eat the meat and throw out the bones!’  Why doesn’t our leader do something about these energy sucking meetings?!”

Have you had a similar experience?  If so, I’m wondering what would happen if YOU stepped up to be the influencer.

You see, I believe that leadership is an activity and not a position. Everyone can exert leadership skills, no matter where they are in an organizational chart. You don’t have to be a principal or a team leader in order to suggest an idea, bring a new perspective, or do something that helps the group move forward.

This kind of leadership is not one that answers all the questions or directs the actions.  And it’s certainly not about being a boss who makes all the decisions.

The most valuable leadership is the one in which you become an influencer rather than a director. You become one who inspires and challenges others to bring their best selves to their work. Your mindset is to help the team be collaborative and invite everyone to contribute their best efforts. This perspective can be very transformative for you as well because it lets you step into the role of an informal leader with a sense of confidence and courage.

Here are five ways to provide informal leadership to a group without having the title.

  1. Be a committed listener. Listen not only to the words, but more importantly, to the underlying meaning being said.  Listen for what complainers care about and then reframe the conversation to address the deeper issue or need.  Logic does not persuade emotion.  So speak to the emotion behind the issue.
  2.  Hold up common standards and beliefs the group has about themselves. Remind them of their better selves and the positive characteristics of the group.  “We are people who…(get things done, care about kids, believe in civil dialogue, etc).”   Hold up that “elephant in the room” for everyone to see, so they can talk about it.  
  3.  Be humble. Brene Brown says that humility is about getting input from others, learning from mistakes, letting go of controlling everything, and frequently reflecting about how to improve yourself or team.  Don’t hide problems or mistakes.  Reframe failure as part of the learning.  Recognize that messiness and not knowing answers is part of the learning process.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to get to the best solutions.
  4. Trust others to do good work. Call on people’s strengths to contribute to the solution. Recognize the strengths of others and help open opportunities for them to do what they do well.  Invest in building capacity in others.
  5. Bring a “balcony view” to the conversation. Explore different perspectives.  Who else has a valuable perspective on the topic?    What are we leaving out?  What are we blind to?  What surprises you?  What do you want to explore? What are questions beneath the surface that are not being asked?

So, back to our story, what can you do as a participant in a boring meeting?

The most important thing you can do is to take responsibility for changing the dynamic that is sucking the life out of you. Don’t blame others or expect someone else to fix the problem.

Accept your role in creating the current mess.  (You’ve been willing to sit through long, boring meetings without offering a solution.)

Instead, ask a good question or two from a curiosity perspective.  Help your team figure out what they can do to change the situation.

  • Say, “I can hear that you believe this report is important for us to know about. What are two key ideas you want us to take away from it?”  (Committed Listener: The report has important information.  Help the speaker summarize.)
  • Say, “As a team we believe in the power of working together. What is the most efficient way to divide up the work tasks?”   (Holding up the standard:  Name what the team values about itself and use that to suggest a better way to organize.)
  • Say, “Joe’s idea is good and I would like to hear more options before we decide. Sometimes the best options emerge when we have several to consider.”  (Humiility:  Showing respect for Joe and asking for responses from others as well)
  • Say, “Susan is always good at cutting through messiness to get to the real meat. I’d like to hear what she thinks is the best action forward.”   (Trusting others: Recognizing the strength of others and inviting them to participate)
  • Say, “I’m wondering how parents would feel about this kind of response.” (Balcony view: Inviting the group to consider a response from other stakeholders not in the room.)

The next time you are stuck in a long, boring meeting, or a contentious debate among colleagues, step up to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the problem afterward.  Take action as an informal leader to help move the group forward by asking strategic questions that can change the negative dynamic in the room.  Be an influencer who helps make things better!

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