Meeting pet peeves

Here’s some things that annoy us in meetings and workshops.  You know, since it’s that time of year again.
1. People who cannot come to the point.  Don’t say in three paragraphs what you can say in 3 sentences or less.

2. Lack of agenda.  We should not be having meetings for the sake of having meetings.

3. Arguing about the same excrement over and over again without doing anything about it.  Either we do something about it or we don’t waste our time griping.
4. Lack of action items.  It doesn’t matter how many good suggestions people make unless someone actually implements them.
5. People who talk over my female and minority colleagues.  Gentlemen, you suck.
6. People who are making good points but just shut up when they’re talked over. (But I get why they do that and I always break in and say, “What is it you were saying…” etc.  Still, I wish they would break in so I don’t have to.  Also if they did that it would seem more normal when I refuse to let myself talked over by the same senior white guys who try to steamroll everybody.)
7.  “Let’s defer that to another committee.”
8.  “Let’s put you on that other committee.”
9.  People who make a bunch of suggestions about work for other people to do and then leave the meeting early so they can’t be assigned any of said work.  (Bonus points if they email later with more work for people “assigned to the committee [I suggested]” to do after.  Note that they have actually done no work themselves and conveniently ducked out right after suggesting a committee but before being able to be assigned to a committee.  No committee was created after they left, btw.)
10.  Anything longer than an hour and 30 min.  Or more frequent than once a month.  (Exceptions:  research meetings– those can/should be more frequent.)
What makes you want to claw your eyes/ears out at meetings?
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39 Responses to “Meeting pet peeves”

  1. Zenmoo Says:

    People who use the meeting to jump to trying to solve problems before the problem has been well defined. Not actually helpful. How do I know the solution is a good one if I don’t understand the problem fully?

  2. Chelsea Says:

    My DH just accepted a TT position so I guess I”ll find out, but why do academic departments “need” so many committees?

  3. Rented life Says:

    There was a tenured guy in one department I belonged to who voted no on everything. Every. Thing. This included approval of minutes. Things that were his ideas. Changes made because he requested them. He had some asinine reason for it that he always tried to explain but really he was just a jerk. He never abstained. I hated that we had to have discussions on his thoughts and ideas and then try to accommodate them only for him to vote against it. He also hated women and anyone white who was hired. He wanted searches to be done without interviewing any women or white candidates.

    • delagar Says:

      Term for guys like him: Contrarian. Once you identify one of these guys (and they’re guys about 85% of the time) in the wild, you should always stop accommodating them and start ignoring them. Talk right over them, or else let them speak and then continue the meeting as though they have said nothing.

  4. Liz Says:

    I work in a non-central office, but we still have to go to meetings remotely. So far, they haven’t done a good job of providing space for and encouraging active participation from us “call-in” participants. Meetings start without us, the audio is not good, and the only opportunities we get to speak are usually a quick question at the end of the meeting (when everyone wants to leave) followed by a non-existent pause – so you can’t actually ask questions. Add in all the normal cross-talk you get when people who like each other get together, and the audio issue and exclusion issue are aggravated. Of course, if I really want to say something, I barrel right in and say, “hey I have a [question/comment].” But then I become #thatwoman…

  5. Leah Says:

    On the point of arguments, though, I do like to hash out an issue as needed. We have a few issues at our school where the admin will say “here’s what to do — no discussion.” Dress code is the biggest issue. People don’t agree, so they just passively don’t enforce. Then, for teachers that do enforce, we get lots of pushback because “well, no one else cared all day about this.” Sometimes, some argument *with a decision and group consensus* is really appreciated.

    I do like meetings that don’t go on forever, but I do want to feel like I have a voice. Otherwise, why did we have a meeting? Send out a darn memo.

  6. Flavia Says:

    OMG, 1, 3, & 10! But they all make me want to kill myself. Related to #3 & #10, having an agenda but not keeping an eye on the clock. I’ve been in so many meetings where we end before getting through half the items because the chair can’t rigorously stick to his or her agenda and lets discussion go on for too long on inconsequential topics before moving on to the items that really require collective discussion & decision-making.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Related: bad agenda-making skills. Let’s put 14 items on the agenda when you KNOW that 3 of them are highly contentious and huge issues that are going to spark lots of debate and discussion. You might need a separate meeting for those!

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I would like to add: Promising a catered lunch meeting and then cancelling the meeting and the food 2 hours before the meeting after everybody else has already not brought their lunches. Not that this happened recently or anything.

    • undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

      All of these, especially “I’m important and have to leave, but the rest of you should do the work that I’ve made for you.” I think riots would ensue if they canceled the lunch, or maybe it would be a riot of just one.
      Meetings are better now, but I wrote about this one time: http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2011/05/i-want-meeting.html

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Canceling the meeting ok, cancelling the lunch when it’s too late to bring one, not ok.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hahaha, as you can see in my comments to your post, I tend to take over when a meeting is being run poorly. Now that I’m tenured and not a first year prof, I get fewer incredulous side-looks and more thank-yous. But I hate it!

        We felt like we’d written this post before but we couldn’t find it in the archive, so it must have been your post we were thinking of.

      • Rented life Says:

        Husband said the lunch thing is his pet peeve. They have day long meetings with no food offered and no break to get food. Some attendees are driving an hour or more in.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    Probably not the best forum to say this, but the most unproductive meetings I go to are the ones with academics present. Too much time is spent talking about what everyone should be doing without anyone actually doing anything. I stepped up for a couple of things I felt passionate about and was okay to implement, but suddenly no one wanted to execute on said eutopia-like ideas. Maybe it’s not like this at top ranked universities, but it almost seems like some people are on committees as a resume builder or something. They show up to meetings, but opt out of doing anything productive to move the mission statement ahead. Grrr. I hate when people don’t give their best selves. Also, people shouldn’t be forced to sit on committees they don’t care about.

    From a corporate standpoint, the most unproductive meetings are the ones that are way too long where only a sliver of the information shared actually relates to me. Sometimes people tend to lump everyone together for a daylong thing and only 1/4 of the day is actually relevant to your specific job function. These multi-hour events also usually end up burning people out and by the time they get to the stuff you should be listening to, you’re either spaced out or multitasking and miss the important stuff as a result.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, you’ll note that that first problem is represented on several points of the list. Academics aren’t being compensated for the service that they do most places, so why should they volunteer to do things? A good manager will make sure the work is doled out evenly, but even then I’ve got at least one passive-aggressive colleague who will be all, “Yeah yeah” and then never actually do the work.

      • First Gen American Says:

        But the academics I’m talking about are having these meetings during normal working hours, so why wouldn’t it be construed as part of the job, even if it is not research? Most of us corporate people get tasked to do things that we’re not measured on (and it’s called putting on the big hat in corporate lingo). These random things are very much considered part of our jobs even if our bonus package isn’t tied to it. It’s also generally understood that salaries are tied to doing all kinds of different work if asked, not just the main function of our jobs. Basically, if your manager wants you to do it, then it gets added to your list of responsibilities. If you’re overwhelmed already, then you can push back and say you can take on said activity only if something else is taken off (which I have done successfully without backlash). I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with all the BS you academics seem to have to go through. I have my own share of crap that I have to deal with, but it seems somehow less complicated and much fewer politics.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It crowds out research and we don’t just work during regular business hours. Our productivity is measured with publications, not time in the office. (Except time teaching in some places.)

        We do a LOT of service. Well, most of us (women) do a lot of service. Personally I’m in favor of more service stuff being shipped to highly compensated administrators, but I realize I’m in a minority there.

    • Rosa Says:

      I used to be involved, as support staff, in the world’s worst academic meetings. I was doing effectiveness reporting on adjuncts, and the faculty supervising adjuncts were supposed to tell me what they wanted reported on, but they didn’t agree. Except, they wouldn’t disagree with each other openly, they would just ask me to “personalize” their own reports. Which negated the entire purpose of reporting – reports were supposed to be standardized so that multiple reporters could learn the same format and adjuncts job performance could be compared even if they had different supervisors.

      So we’d have these meetings where I would say “this is the format we are using, this is what we are measuring, here are the changes various people have asked for, please decide which changes would be useful.” Dr. A would say “I think this, this and this!” Dr B would say “I agree! The things that are most important are [other things not mentioned by Dr. A]” and then Dr. C would say “That sounds great! We should leave off all the things you mentioned and put on these other things I like.” Then they would say “I’m so glad we’ve talked about this and all agree!” and end the meeting. I would follow up with an email – to everyone – delineating the proposed changes and they would all respond direclty to me with what each individually wanted, and never discuss with each other. Some were quite angry with me when my reporting didn’t follow their individual requests. But none ever directed any dissent laterally or upward. It happened every quarter for about a year before I quit.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    People who come late and then ask questions. (And the proper response is to say, “That’s been covered already; I’ll catch you up after the meeting.” Not making everyone hear it again.) The repeat offender at my last job also left the meetings early.

    We used to have meeting-planning meetings for the meetings we hosted at my last job, which sounded weird at first, but which meant we always had a well-organized agenda or knew that we didn’t have enough content for the meeting unless someone else had a burning issue.

    Another problem is when people have to go to so many meetings that they don’t have enough time to actually do any of the things that were decided at the meetings. I think that no one should ever average more than three (one-hour) meetings per day, but I’ve had bosses who regularly had six or seven meetings per day.

  10. Cloud Says:

    I am constantly amazed by how few people know how to run a good meeting. If you call a meeting, you are responsible for having an agenda, figuring out who is going to take minutes (do NOT just ask one of the women- and it is ALWAYS one of the women- to do it when everyone arrives), keeping the discussion on track, etc.

    My pet peeve that isn’t already on your list is when meeting organizers allow derailing. The standard trick for preventing this is to acknowledge the point and put it aside for future discussion, perhaps even at the end of the meeting if there is time after completing the agenda items. Sometimes it helps to have a visible “parking lot” of things the group will discuss later. Of course, this only works if you follow through and the parking lot isn’t seen as a graveyard.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m making my senior project group next year read the chapter on running meetings from Getting Things Done. Specifically ACTION ITEMS.

      One nice thing is that we have the department secretary take minutes at meetings as part of her job. There’s a really nice experimental economics paper by Lise Vesterlund that was motivated by precisely that factoid that it’s always the woman taking minutes at a meeting. Turns out you can make women behave like men in terms of volunteering for service if you get rid of the men, though they’re more likely to take turns.

      • Liz Says:

        Which one of her articles are you referencing? I don’t know enough of the jargon to tell which by title… It sounds interesting, though! (And useful… at my job, it seems like ONLY women are doing things that are useful to the collective, while men folk are uber competitive and individually-driven.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s called “Breaking the Glass Ceiling with ‘No:’ Gender Differences in Doing Favors,” Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, M.J. Tocci, Lise Vesterlund, Laurie Weingart, Amanda Weirup.

        I don’t think it’s published yet.

      • Liz Says:

        Thanks! I will keep an eye out for it.

  11. oil_garlic Says:

    All of the above! I have been guilty of not having an agenda, but if I run the meeting, I am pretty good at getting people back on topic. I avoid large meetings if I can and find that smaller meetings are usually more productive. I also ask a person or assign a person (not a department) to a task so that it’s not forgotten after the meeting.

  12. Savvy Working Gal Says:

    I have one. People who are late for meetings. At my last job it was protocol to be at least 5 minutes early for meetings. Here everyone is always late no matter who calls the meetings. Sometimes the organizer calls people to ask if they are coming. We all use an outlook calendar and receive reminders of meetings, so I don’t understand why this happens so frequently.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sometimes I’m late for a meeting because the previous meeting ran overtime!

      • Ana Says:

        As long as you don’t ask incessant questions or demand to get a recap about what you’ve missed then that’s OK.

      • Ana Says:

        Also, if you are RUNNING the meeting, then you should be on time (leave the other meeting early, or “pad your time” to make sure you have commute time between meetings). I had an advisor who would call these meetings with collaborators, ask me to tag along “to learn and take notes” and then show up 30 minutes later while I’m trying to make small talk (since I arrived on time). Then we only had a few minutes for the actual agenda.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        addendum: If you’re running a meeting and you know it normally takes you 2 hours to get from the city you live in to the meeting site, do not wait to cancel the meeting 1 hour before it starts because you didn’t make it out of the house on time and now the roads look bad so you decided not to go at all. You knew you weren’t going to make it an hour ago.

  13. Fiona McQuarrie (@all_about_work) Says:

    Another one is people who usually have something really good to say, but preface every comment with, “oh, I just wanted to jump in here to add this” or, “well, i know we’ve talked about this for a while, but here’s what I think” or……If they skipped the disclaimers and just said what they have to say, the meetings would go much faster!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, just say it already. But some people think it’s impolite to just say stuff. (Not me!)

      • Debbie M Says:

        You hit on one of my biggest speech/presentation pet peeves: going on and on and on about how brief you’re going to be. Ugh! (Another one is when bigwigs start their speeches by listing all the important things we little people do. We already know what we do. We don’t really expect you to know exactly what that is or to fully appreciate it–going on about it for half your speech is not convincing, even when you basically get it right. Just tell us the cool stuff you came to tell us already and then give us time to give you feedback.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        OH yeah! Going on and on about brevity is the annoyingest.

  14. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I hate meetings. Fortunately, just about the only ones I’m in these days are for non-profit boards. One of which I run, so trust me, the agenda is strictly followed and they end on time. I see a lot of people’s time logs, though, and I am amazed how many meetings some people’s lives and jobs seem to feature. Like literally I’ll look at 2 days they’ve recorded, and there are 14 hours of meetings. There is no time for any work beyond meetings. The extra hour or two they do work are consumed with figuring out meeting requests and scheduling. I think it’s partly that people know collaboration is generally good. But then it gets formalized — you can only collaborate with people at specific times you’ve asked for in advance. In companies, some people are deliberately trying to get rid of that culture and do more short, just-call-the-person meetings.

  15. Eli Rabett Says:

    “Lack of agenda. We should not be having meetings for the sake of having meetings.”

    As if there is anything better to do


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