“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith

Ouch! Mr. Galbraith must have participated in some especially nonproductive meetings. Why else would he issue such a stinging rebuke? No one minds going to a meeting if it is productive and something gets done – right? All businesses need to bring people together to meet.
Here is the dilemma to the ‘effective’ meeting that most people do not understand– the way a meeting is judged is not solely if it is productive and you get something done; sure that is important, but it does not tell the entire story.

A meeting rises or falls based on the internal motivational needs of the participants. You can work hard to develop the ‘perfect’ meeting and fall short if you do not understand this. These motivational needs are often hidden to other people and hard to figure out. However, people’s stress or out of control behaviors become the signal that a need is not being met.

A quick Guide

Here is a quick guide to what you to look for and how to respond in order to take the misery out of the meeting.

  • If people are getting restless, fidgeting and impatient: Just get it done. Make quick decisions. Focus on measurable results.
  • If people seem rigid and inflexible: Stick with the plan and don’t go off script. Treat everyone equally. Follow the agenda.
  • If people seem bored and disruptive: Let them talk and debate even if it gets a little heated. Keep it fun. Adapt on the fly.
  • If people seem hesitant or are shutting down: Give time to think without pressure. Show respect. Listen carefully to everyone.
  • What if you see all of these stress behaviors? At a minimum, acknowledge the diversity in the room. If you know the meeting does not lend itself to matching everyone’s needs, acknowledge it upfront.
  • For example:

    “I know some of you would like to have more time to think about what we need to make a decision on today but time is of the essence and we need to get to closure quickly. What can we do to ensure that you support the decision and still make certain we have one by the end of our meeting?”


    “We need to go off of our agenda to address something we hadn’t anticipated. Please bear with us as we try address this new item. We’ll make sure we get back on track and cover the rest of our items as quickly as possible.”

    Learning to meet everyone’s motivational expectations can avoid the misery of meetings and turn them into welcomed opportunities to collaborate and work as a team.

    group of people in meeting

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