Friday, April 19, 2013

Brief Communication Workshop

I was talking to a guy last Sunday who was feeding a child. As our conversation continued he concentrated on me, ignoring the open mouth in front of him awaiting another shovelful. As his wife took over she offered this as a further piece of evidence that men can't multi-task. She may well be right (about some men some of the time, not all men all of the time). There are certain points at which those of us, who find inter-action draining, have to really concentrate. If we don't, we find we have agreed to things we didn't want to do, or to things we won't be able to remember a day, (OK ten minutes) later.

I had a good conversation with another man yesterday about not paying attention in meetings, the person expressing gratitude that I was able to tune back in pretty quickly when I looked absent-minded. I have had this all my life and can hear various teachers from the past saying 'You haven't listened to a word I said.'

Strangely, in one such incident, in a Latin lesson in about 1970, I can still remember precisely the thing I was accused of not attending to. 'Cum takes the subjunctive in the imperfect tense.' I told him. Thing is, I have no idea what it means. Never have had and, since I don't care, never will. I floored that teacher and he had to apologise. He should have apologised that his subject wasn't taught with a grip or enthusiasm that caught his pupils up and fascinated them.

Why is it then that if I zone out in a long meeting (or at least let my visual interface drop) it is my fault? I find meetings draining.

Here's a tip. No speeches in meetings, for the benefit of those of us who might be more gripped by inter-activity than lectures. Short sentences, agreed outcomes, specific subjects to discuss and please, please, please, spare us the five minute contribution that covers such a range of issues that the concluding question 'What do you think?' is not capable of a short answer. (In such cases someone responding often picks a small detail and explains their opinion about that. Then a whole broad discussion about a massive programme can become a discussion about plug sockets in one room.)

A meeting is a way of saving time - we get more done by getting together than we could do alone. A member of my family drove hundreds of miles to a meeting yesterday which was delayed by an accident, had the venue moved without consultation and the subject matter of which was communicated differently to three of the five attendees none of whom can give a clear summary of what has been agreed. How this business has survived the downturn is beyond me sometimes and I reckon yesterday cost the company four figures (my calculation based on probable salaries and cost per mile).

I think this is a memo to the chair-people. We need to know what we're supposed to be talking about. We need to know why you need us to care. And on the drive back we need to feel it wasn't a waste of that precious resource - petrol.

If we are not stuck in it might be because you aren't gripping. Still; will try harder in future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too often the people who attend meetings are more focused on their agenda than on THE agenda. There is also a bizarrely held belief that the quantity of words used has more significance than the quality of words used. It's as if there is an expectation that the sheer volume of words will overwhelm the rest of the meeting.
I agree with your sentiments- keep it short and pithy, and let's judge the quality of the argument in terms of the depth of the impact that is achieved over time.