Two weeks ago I attended an all staff meeting of 20 or so colleagues. The meeting required a 177-mile round trip drive and consumed six hours all tolled.
That I directly contributed very little and the fuel, time and CO2 emissions wasted is not the point of this missive. The problem was the meeting was so riddled with useless anecdotes, caveats and content that had zero to do with my work, I left with a high level of frustration because I felt like we didn’t accomplish anything. But, hey, it wasn’t my meeting.
One week later, I hosted a conference call with my boss (who reports to the president) and my boss’ counterpart on the academic side (who, while I do not report to this person, outranks me by a wiiiiiiiiiiiiide margin).
“Paul, this is your call,” boss says. “Go ahead.”
Instantly I moved into a mode I didn’t realize how much I missed. This was my meeting. Absolutely fucking right, and we’re going to get this done my way, which means I’ll get you out of here by the time I promised. And if you’ll indulge me just a little bit, we’ll get everything done we need to get done. I further promise that if I seem curt or rude, I apologize, but it is only in the interest of respect for your time and accomplishment of the goal.
“Thank you gentlemen,” I started. “I want to keep this to thirty minutes and I have five agenda items,” which I then read. At times I feared I was being curt, especially when speaking to two genteel southern superior officers for whom courtesy is highly important. Nevertheless, I was confident I was doing the right thing.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said more than a few times. “But do I understand correctly that this is what you want? Ok. Just what I needed. Next.”
The call ended exactly thirty minutes after it began.
The feeling of satisfaction in my work at that moment was quite strong. I accomplished exactly what I set out to accomplish in the time allotted, managed to keep the conversation focused (even at the risk of offending two superiors), and left with a clear course of action agreeable and hopefully beneficial to all related parties.
My lesson for you, dear reader, is this. We have become overly courteous to the point of productivity loss and ultimately frustration. And yes, the title at the header was intended to draw attention, not to encourage you to be flat out rude.
That said, people would rather get through a meeting on time and accomplish the goals for that meeting than worry about being offended. Set your course, be direct, turn all conversation back to the topic, and move on.
Thank you and goodbye.