At a recent meeting it was a pleasant surprise to hear an agitated voice state that we need to move beyond talking of what was discussed during the previous meeting and what we could possibly discuss during the next meeting. We need to talk of work progress (and lack of it) between these meetings and ask ourselves why meetings have become an end in themselves. Angst in the tone ensured silence for the 5 odd minutes that followed.
On way back home that evening I recalled the different categories of people I have encountered during meetings, people who left me – well, wondering.
- People who fly half way across the country or the globe for a meeting and then are busy checking emails and face-book. They have little idea of what has been discussed and suddenly they wake up to the discussions around them. This happened recently at a gathering (at Lamakaan) that was discussing Kabir (the poet) and his philosophy; based on a recently published book. After approximately an hour, of the 2 hour session, a participant looked up from his phone and asked ‘Is this the Kabir ke dohe wala Kabir?’
- People who are present at most meetings on a topic (or a select range of topics). A conversation I overheard, at the onset of a meeting, just as we were about to enter the meeting hall, brought out the issue succinctly. ‘Oh no, not again the same bunch of us, we will talk the same things’ said one. The other chipped in quickly saying – ‘so what, we know each other and the topic; the meeting will be useful!’ Useful for who – would be good question here!
- People who are invited to meetings on wide range of subjects. These people, blessed with some mysterious set of skills, are able to talk with equal élan and pose on most, if not all, topics.
- People who do not want to leave the mike and conveniently forget the signs, which have been agreed upon, for them to close their ‘short-talk’. Robert Chambers considers ‘the Indian male above 50 the most dangerous species’ in this context. At so many of these gatherings the initial two odd talks (presentations) take up significantly more time and successfully derail the rest of the day. This also results in some participants who may have come from far (not without investing resources) not getting the allotted time to talk and in their agitated state of mind not being in a position to listen either!
- Power-points – that integral component of most meetings. After three most of them appear similar and yet – as if things were not bad enough – we have instances of people read out the text or come up with 100 odd slides put together. I have often wondered if they want to convey thoughts and ideas or have a sadist pleasure at making others sit through their presentations.
- People who attend without preparation and blur out generic lines. ‘We need to involve the youth as volunteers’ kind of lines. Who these – eager to volunteer – youth are is a mystery to all around including the youth from their office. Interestingly such generic talk appears to have made way into organizational meetings as well.
- People who base their understanding on experiences during meetings; understanding of people and issues. How this works is a mystery, which competes with the one mentioned earlier, especially when there many who are left confused and have questions even after multiple visits to actual sites. Then, of course, there are some who give more talks (during these meetings) on a place than the days they have put in learning of the place!
- People who refuse to pay for their food and share rooms despite taking of equity during sessions. They are the ‘Yudhistir’ species; walking a couple of inches above the ground. Contradictions, like these, abound as friends have experienced. One shared of attending a meeting on poverty at a 5 star hotel (in Goa) while the other stated ‘I don’t understand why those working on Climate Change travel to so many international meetings!’ Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts this succinctly ‘I went to a happiness conference, researchers looked very unhappy’.
Still on the way, and by now tired of these thoughts, two realizations struck me. One that most people (and like in other scenarios there are exceptions) who are very good at talking in meetings perform better in meetings, than elsewhere. They have invested time in these gatherings and have honed their skills to near perfection. I today, feel silly that I once used to be in awe of them. And the other that I have been a guilty of some of these traits and need to direly cut down on attending meetings.