5 common complaints about meetings

5 common complaints about meetings

7 September 2018

When people complain about meetings, five issues consistently come up, Paul Axtell writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Here’s how to quit complaining and deal with them constructively.

1. One or two people dominate the conversation

At too many meetings there are a few people who seem to steal the show. Here are some ways to broaden the participation:

When you open the meeting:

  • Let the group know that you want broad participation and that everyone has a chance to contribute on each topic.
  • Ask for permission to call on people when you want to get more views into the conversation.
  • Ask people to set aside technology (see below) and any other work and to focus on each person when they are speaking.

During the meeting:

  • When you have the sense that someone is speaking too often, ask them to hold back their thoughts for a moment. You might say, “Andre, let me get some others into this conversation and then I’ll come back to you, OK?”
  • Whenever someone gets cut off or interrupted, always double back and ask them to finish their thoughts: “Sarah, was there something else you wanted to add?”
  • If you’re the person interrupted, speak up. You can say, “Jacques, I wasn’t quite finished. I’d like to complete my comment, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

After the meeting:

  • If you have concerns about some people speaking more often or longer than they should, let them know: “Troy, I would like the participation to be a bit more balanced in our meetings. It would be helpful if you waited until other people have entered the conversation before you add your thoughts. Also, I’d appreciate it if you’d look out to see who hasn’t participated yet and invite them share their thoughts.”

2. Your boss doesn’t lead meetings effectively

If your boss lacks the skills to effectively facilitate a meeting, why not offer to prepare the agenda for him. Solicit topics from the group. Identify outcomes for each topic and get the agenda to people beforehand, if possible.

You can also offer to run the meeting or suggest someone else, explaining to your boss that just because they’re the most senior person in the room doesn’t mean they have to run the meeting.

3. Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues

Why not raise this issue with the meeting organiser and offer to canvas the team each week to develop a list of topics from which you can craft an agenda?

These questions will help you identify possible topics:

  • What does this group need to talk about?
  • What are our vital initiatives — which are in jeopardy?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • What do we need to develop a mutual understanding about?
  • What are we losing sleep over?

For each topic, suggest desired outcomes and the time needed to achieve them.

4. No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops

The senior people in the meeting need to set a good example. Ask them to put an agreement in place at the beginning of the meeting to limit technology.

That might include putting devices on vibrate and only responding to genuinely urgent calls.

If it seems overwhelming to take on the culture around devices in your company, start with yourself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly colleagues will notice that you are completely present and that others are not. And they just might join you.

5. We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings

  • To address this problem, make sure you have closure on each topic so that next steps are nailed down.
  • Send out a summary of the meeting within an hour of its ending or at least before the end of day.
  • Assign someone to follow up with everyone between meetings to see that they are making progress on the action items that were assigned to them.
  • Start keeping track of how many items are completed — aim for an 85% completion rate.
  • When your completion rate slips, stop and have a conversation with your group about what would help you all get back on track.

Of course, you may not be able to completely eliminate complaints about meetings, but you can reduce them.