Meeting Mindfulness

Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment)


Meetings meetings meetings… There are always too many, they’re too long, and they don’t seem to help you get much done. Throngs of people have written about how to have effective meetings, planning as well as conducting them. Getting together face to face should be a very productive moment.  That said, I’ve seen few organizations get them right.

Listen by Ky Olsen

There’s a certain meeting amnesia that happens when a meeting disperses. You just spent 2 hours in a discussion but no one can seem to remember what was decided. You have the same debates over and over. A stunning amount of time is spent reworking the same features. Frankly, it makes me stabby. I can’t stand being in a meeting when I know that the same conversation will be replayed again for no reason other than the lack of attention paid the first time. I’ve been in plenty of meetings when even the person talking wasn’t paying attention to their own words. Oh to have those hours back!

In my quest to invent the 28 hour day, I came upon a great video that mentions the effectiveness of fully focusing on the task at hand, practicing mindfulness. Tony Schwartz: The Myths of the Overworked Creative He makes the profound statement that we are infinitely more efficient when we focus on one thing at a time. If everyone focused on the discussion during a meeting, would it be faster, more memorable, more productive?

All the structure in the world can’t make your meetings effective if no one is paying attention. I’m not talking about sitting quietly staring at whomever is speaking. I’m talking about mindfully listening and considering the discussion. We need to do this to be effective. At Centare I see many examples of getting this right. It’s one of the things I love about the people I work with.

My list of what works:

  • Meetings are only as long as they need to be. Less time with follow up questions is better than a long meeting.
  • Be frank and concise.
  • Have a clear purpose. Once that is satisfied, end the meeting.
  • If the people you need are too busy to pay attention in the meeting, don’t have the meeting.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone’s speaking. It’s a clear sign that people are thinking about their response rather than listening to what is being said.

That last one is huge. Everyone is crunched for time, and everyone wants to contribute. Interrupting is a red flag that no one is listening and you are doomed to repeat this conversation. This behavior becomes part of your team’s culture and it’s a tough habit to break. We learned to wait for our turn to talk in kindergarten for good reason.

I spent some time with a team that was so desperate to make sure that the project succeeded, design arguments went on for weeks. For all the words that were said, very few were ever heard. Our team culture became so toxic that ideas were shot full of holes before they were fully presented. In meetings it was rare that anyone could finish what they intended to say before someone else started talking. We weren’t looking for the gems we could harvest out of each other’s ideas. The sad truth is that a lot of those ideas were awesome. But we missed them. We were too busy jumping to conclusions and assuming that we knew what the person was about to say to consider a different point of view.

Respect your own time, respect other’s time by allowing ideas to be heard and considered before moving on to rebuttal. Make sure that you are harnessing all those great ideas rather than talking over them. We are all busy, but we will get more done if we take the time to listen to each other. (Stop, collaborate and listen) apologies

Think of how short and useful meetings would be if everyone paid attention.