The appreciation of meetings

meeting, /ˈmiːtɪŋ/
noun, plural meetings
A gathering of people for a particular purpose (such as to talk about business)
— Merriam-Webster, Learner’s dictionary

I really appreciate meetings. And I respect them. I think a well-held meeting is the best solution that we currently have in order to cooperate in real-time with strangers. But that doesn’t make me enjoy them at all.

I want to be quite specific here, so let poke at my previous statement a bit:

  1. Well-held meetings is a topic that probably has been written about for ages. They have a desired outcome, proper agenda and progression, hearing everyone, inviting only and all of those who need to be there, and so-on.
  2. Cooperation, as in striving towards a common goal. There needs to be one thing that requires everyone’s attention, and binds them to that one moment.
  3. Real-time is perhaps the most obvious requirement of meetings. Still, it’s worth to mention: if you can do it asynchronously e.g. filling forms and emailing them back, you don’t need to have everyone in one place at the same time.
  4. Strangers. A rule of thumb that I could refer to: if you could pass your free time with them, and enjoy it, they’re not strangers.

The last part, strangers, is what drove me to write this post, as it was some kind of realization for me.

When I think of a meeting, I think of a room with maybe a window looking outside at a wall of some industrial building. The room has a rectangular table in the middle, probably with a white semi-gloss finish. The table has chairs surrounding it. And let’s not forget the people sitting on those chairs. Some have their laptops in front of them, and a few of them are tapping on them. There’s one in the corner looking at their phone. And I can hear someone talking about a topic with a not-really-passionate voice.

If something needs to be decided at work, usually there’s a meeting. And things slow down. And there’s a lot of talk. People would rather get back to their work, since that feels more productive. After talking for a while, I feel it necessary to ask “but, do you know what I mean?” and I can only hope that they answer truthfully.

But things are different when it comes to our close ones: Friends, family or even neighbors. Non-strangers. Someone gets an idea, we talk about it for a while and weigh some options. And for those extra tough situations, we might even resort to Doodle and/or a quick vote. I can say “but, you know what I mean” and be confident that they understand my true meaning behind my words.

Adding the question mark after “You know what I mean” is very costly, and slows communication down a lot. But I can’t stress how useful and even necessary it is, and this is why I appreciate meetings: It’s the least-common-denominator format for gathering a group of strangers to cooperate on an issue that affects them all. It might be slow, but it’s sure, and safe when done appropriately. Avoiding any touchy subjects, enunciating and choosing your words so that everyone understands the concepts at hand, you can get from point A to point B. You get decisions. You progress.

Have meetings with people who don’t get each other. But don’t have meetings with people who do.

If you are lucky like me, and work with a group who have great social interaction, you should strive towards making as much as possible out of it, and just talk things through. Sure, you can book a silent meeting room for that, but don’t necessarily make it into a meeting. Just talk with each other. Like people talk to each other.

And if you don’t share my fortune? Well, you should find ways to shape your surroundings to an environment of efficient and effortless communication, without meetings. You’ll get people liking each other more, stress levels going down, and enjoyment in the workplace going up. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?