Can you Breathe Life into a Soul-Sucking Meeting?

Have you ever sat in a meeting that seemed to suck your soul right out of your body?  Was it disempowerment?  Disenfranchisement?  What makes meetings feel this way?  What can you do to change it?

A coworker once told me that she felt “disenfranchised”.  I had to go look up “disenfranchise" because to me it sounded like she felt deprived of her right to eat a Big Mac, but surprisingly that’s not what it means.

  • Disenfranchised means “Deprived of your right to vote, to have a say.”
  • Disempowered means “To remove confidence from (someone) to do something.”

What makes us feel disempowered and disenfranchised in meetings?

  1. Marching Orders.  Everything has been decided.  We’re just having a meeting to give you your marching orders.

  2. Meeting Oligopoly.  2-3 people are talking and the rest are spectators.

  3. Idea Killers.  When one person’s idea is squashed, it sets the tone that no one’s idea is welcome.

Here are some things that worked for me.

  • Run Marching Orders through an Input Filter.
    Although you may be told that everything is decided and you just do what you’re told, you don’t have to hear it that way.  Take a page from the salesperson’s playbook “Everything is negotiable.  ’No’ is just their opening chess move.”  Listen intently to what is being said, as if you are being asked “what would you do differently?”  

    Consider that the language might be disenfranchising, but that may be the only language they speak.  Translate it into the language of empowerment.

    It’s important here to be constructive and not critical.  Coming back with criticism won’t buy you any friends, but constructive changes have a real shot at being heard. 
  • Break the Oligopoly.
    Is your meeting a tennis match between 2-3 people?  As a participant you can break this by soliciting for other people’s input.  Try something like, “I feel like we’re only hearing from a few people, I’d like to know what Jenny thinks. Jenny, what’s your opinion?”  When you grab the proverbial microphone and use it for your own input you just added to the problem.  But if you grabbing the microphone and passing it to someone else, you’ve expanded the discussion space.
  • Create safety for others.  
    One thing we can learn from Improv players is that they actively save each other onstage.  (ref Paul Goddard).   When someone else’s idea is squashed, jump in and save them.  It will benefit the whole meeting and possibly future meetings.

    It might sound like this:
    Joe:  “Hey how about we buy some new servers?”
    Squasher:  “We can’t do that, we have no budget.”
    You:  “YES AND, I wonder if we can save on maintenance budget if we spend more on servers?”

We'd love to hear from you.  What have you tried?