I Hate Meetings

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I am joining the "I Hate" club. Only I hate meetings in addition to hating Rudy Giuliani. I just hate ‘em. Let me explain.

Meetings — in the corporate world — are inefficient, intrusive, ego-tripping power grabs. Politicians love meetings. Lonely people love meetings. Get-a-Life types love meetings. Corporate brownnosers love meetings. I qualify as neither of the above. For every ten meetings I get sucked into, one is necessary. Meetings in the workplace are usually initiated by people who have nothing better to do with their time — people who demand to be the bull’s-eye of attention.

My schedule at work is packed, every day, and always, some yahoo with too much time on his hands sends me persistent meeting invitations. Lotus Notes has the glorious ability to click on a button that says “decline meeting.” How I love that modus operandi! Except that gets me in hot water. Oh how I hate meetings.

At work, I duck all the meetings I can, for this reason: I am anal about getting work done, and for each minute or each hour I spend in a useless meeting, that’s one minute or one hour where my very necessary work doesn’t get done. I attend meetings — all the time — wherein people gab for the sake of gabbing, and demand center stage for the sake of attention and ego trippin’. I scorn such things. If, on a scale of 1 to 10, a situation rating an 8 or more requires a meeting, the meeting lovers are demanding a meeting in a situation 2. They brag about how many meetings they have per day. They measure their performance quantitatively, in terms of meetings minutes. They call all this meeting stuff “having a seat at the table.” Indeed, I was already sitting at my own table, and I was doing just fine, thank you.

Funny, but not too long ago, I got ‘written up’ and hauled into my manager’s office for canceling an unnecessary meeting, because I needed to cancel it. The meeting was not good timing, as the project I was working on was not at the “let’s meet about this” stage. The issue we were going to drag over for two hours — had I attended the meeting — was finished shortly thereafter because I cancelled the meeting and saved two hours of unproductive time. Feel free to write me up again, please. The trade-off is that the work gets done.

If you are like me, and function within a corporate environment, you probably have a copy of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sitting on your bookshelf at the office, and only because it was given to you for free, and you have yet to throw it out in hopes of gaining some brownie points from the boss for having it in your office inventory. The glue is dry-rotting on my copy. However, at every desk also sits a copy of The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions. You’ll note the binding to that book — most places you see it — is shredded, faded, and falling off. Dilbert is real. Dilbert is the truth. That’s why real people open that book for purposes of reading, and use Covey’s merely as suck-up decor.

Like any self-help, psychobabbling, change-your-life-overnight business bilge, Covey’s book is supposed to help you recognize the dysfunctional aspect of your miserable, individualistic self, so you can finally live a value-added life via redirecting your focus to more group or tangential matters. How fulfilling indeed. You are not supposed to be a certain way because that is who you are, but rather, you are supposed to say, "Maybe I can change who I am, and I can move the world after all." Though Covey’s worldviews are not all flawed, his "give them what they want to hear instead of what it is" principle is not a part of my spiritual architecture. Covey principles will have you spending half your day immersed in time management matrixes, but clearly, you’ll need to hire someone else to do your work for you, of which I’m sure the budget won’t allow, especially if you’ve already paid Covey’s consulting team thousands of dollars to come to your office and slow down your efficiency factor.

An acquaintance who shares my disinterest for meetings spells out what happens when the Covey Time-Management Parade invades your office:

I think Steven R. Covey should be sewn in a sack with a snake and cast into the Tiber. About four years ago our employers had the bright idea to spend several thousand dollars (or more) to have some local snake-oil peddler come in and run a two-day Covey management seminar. I was “offered the opportunity” to take the course, which I declined — sorry, I said (in essence), but SOMEBODY’s got to get sh*t done around here.

Pretty soon everybody else around here was proudly toting around these ridiculous Covey Planners and earnestly debating whether a given item should be inscribed therein using PEN or PENCIL… I’m seized with nauseated despair over the very memory….

At the time, my boss (who’s a genuinely good guy, I emphasize), was puzzled why I hadn’t availed myself of the Covey training. “Well, Bob,” I said in a rare moment of unguarded asperity, “here’s my time-management strategy in three simple steps: 1) Organize; 2) Prioritize; 3) Execute. NOW — give me $10,000 as a ‘consulting fee.'”

Incidentally, shortly after we shelled out God only knows how much money for the Covey crap, Covey’s company almost went bankrupt. Why? Wellllll….. seems that they “lost their focus” and spent too much time on peripheral matters.

If your spleen didn’t split with laughter over that one, blogger Eric Nehrlich’s reflections on meetings view them as essentially a collective information transfer imposed on individuals who have diverse preferences about how they would like to receive that information:

I don’t think I’d be going out on a cognitive science limb by saying that different people have different preferred methods of absorbing information. In my case, I prefer a random-access approach, being able to flip back and forth, rather than being held to somebody else’s idea of how I should view the information. Other people prefer graphical representations. Some people learn best through hearing, some by reading. It varies wildly. Meetings impose a linear auditory information transfer on everybody, which makes it inefficient for everybody. I can’t tell you the number of hour-long meetings which I’ve missed and/or skipped and been able to extract all the information useful to me by asking somebody three minutes worth of questions. That’s an inefficiency rate of 95%!

Meetings are, essentially, anti-diversity as well as anti-individualistic. They don’t allow for personalized approaches to information sharing and retrieval. They eschew execution in favor of hasty, collective discussions about whether we should execute or not. Meetings portend a team effort, but in reality, many so-called "team improvement" meetings are meant to showcase a few Golden Boys while denigrating others, making the team effort fizzle and flub before it actually ever takes shape. They are, quite often, cumulative counseling sessions as a replacement pill for individualizing organization and implementation. Meetings are, as my anti-Covey acquaintance above said, "the opiate of the managerial class."

Scott Snair, a former military platoon leader, has written a gem of a book entitled Stop the Meeting, I Want to Get Off!: How to Eliminate Endless Meetings While Improving Your Team’s Communication, Productivity, and Effectiveness. The editorial review at Amazon.com contains some worthwhile clips:

Meetings are the bane of modern corporate culture. Today’s managers spend between 25 percent and 75 percent of their workday in meetings, at least half of which are unproductive, if not downright destructive. In a book that is sure to be warmly embraced by beleaguered managers, a decorated Desert Storm platoon leader turned top corporate consultant offers managers a proven system for running a department, or an entire enterprise, without unnecessary meetings.

Finally, a management guru who understands the meaning of real productivity! However, the problem is not only the precious time lost to managers, but those non-managers who get sucked into the meeting merry-go-round, and have no real power base from which to express their disdain. They are forced to go along to get along.

Libertarian lawyer Stephan Kinsella hates meetings too.

I often try to find ways to get out of them or make them less unproductive. I’ll pretend like I’m ducking out for a bathroom break and stay gone 20 minutes. Or I’ll bring in some material I need to review, or a patent application I need to work on, and do it while others drone on. Or I’ll clean out my cell phone text message inbox or phone directory.

Sometimes I call my office number from my cell phone. This causes it to automatically call my cell phone 2 or 3 minutes later (I have it programmed to do this). So I answer the cell phone, acting like it’s an important business call, and duck out for 30 minutes.

I hate meetings, despite the fact that I am not supposed to think that way. I bet Rudy Giuliani is the sort that loves meetings. Don’t save a seat at the time-wasting table for me. I’m busy carrying out the job at hand while y’all are having your meetings. As a reader pointed out to me, "just send me the transcript and I’ll read it in the bathroom."

Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a part-time libertarian freelance writer; graduate student in Economics and Finance; and a full-time, accounting and finance professional. She is fond of American-made pick-ups, Japanese SUVs, Belgian beer, Polish food, Italian markets, Mexican beaches, West Virginia diners with real corn bread, Harley Davidsons, the Waughs, Murray Rothbard, H.L. Mencken, and photographing small-town Americana. She makes a mean martini, and she orders Windsor Rare California Port by the case. She doesn’t have time to recycle, thinks Bill O’Reilly is a Nazi, and she spends her spare time evading the Homeland Security Nazis for kicks and grins. She aspires to disturb the peace of the complacent, content, collectivist masses that would sell their souls — and hers — for a little security, a cushy easy chair, and a big-screen, color TV. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles, and check out her website, along with her blog.

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