We all dread hearing, “They are in a meeting,” when we call or walk into businesses or government offices. This is in addition to the standard “the system is offline” or “there is no electricity” explanations for delayed or nonexistent service provision. The public has grown accustomed to these kinds of reactions.
Or have they?
If we’re used to it, then why do we still get so worked up over flimsy explanations? The topic of “meetings” is what I’d like to discuss today.
In Ethiopia, meetings are adored. In general, we enjoy getting together for meetings. One of the more unusual aspects of our meetings is that we don’t usually adhere to a strict schedule. The first problem is that they almost seldom begin promptly. And second, they can keep going for hours.
It is standard practice for meetings to conclude with attendees committing to follow up on previously discussed action items until the next scheduled meeting. However, I have seen that sufficient follow-up on actions is sometimes not done until the last minute, when the ultimate deadline has finally been reached. As a result, everyone rushes to do the tasks that had been put off for a long time but were now urgent.
Many of our meetings are difficult to characterize because, in my opinion, everyone there feels pressured to speak up, even if they don’t have anything substantive to add. You have to wonder if the ability to say, “I am at a meeting,” is included in the evaluation of work performance.
Or, people might feel like they don’t matter if their voices aren’t heard in the meeting.
It makes no difference if something has been said a thousand times before or if what is being said is something that should be expressed or adds anything of value to the ongoing conversations. Everyone has an overwhelming urge to express themselves. Why is that, I wonder?
The most infuriating aspect is that when people are finally given a chance to speak, they rarely go right to the point. Because of the length of their rambling, you find yourself wondering, “Where is this going?” You find yourself saying, “Come to the point already!”
I sometimes find myself in a stream of thought and end up missing the whole thing the person was talking about, and I sometimes wonder if it’s just me or if others feel the same. Why is it so hard for us to start meetings on time, stick to the topic at hand, and wrap up promptly?
I feel like meetings are increasingly being used as airing grounds for grievances rather than places to develop workable solutions. When everyone at a meeting starts venting about how bad things are, the allotted time for brainstorming solutions quickly evaporates.
I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but I feel like it’s almost rude to talk about a topic directly, to cut to the chase. It seems like if you just say what you’re thinking, no one will take the issue seriously.
So, let’s get right down to business and not waste anyone’s time or effort by dancing about the issue.