Discussion Distractions: Part II
by Rick Brenner
Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
It's OK to hate meetings. It's not OK to hate meetings while at the same time doing the very things that make them so unproductive and hateful. Last time we examined some meeting patterns that distract us by creating or contributing to toxic conflict. This Part II explores distractions that waste time through irrelevance or by hijacking the meeting agenda to personal ends.
- Axe grinding
To advance a previously blocked project of their own, or to inject an I-told-you-so, some make contributions that have the not-so-hidden purpose of advancing their previously blocked projects. The group must then knock down this obstacle before it can begin problem solving.
A man using a chainsaw. Notice all the safety equipment, and his obvious focus on what he's doing. If we all paid as much attention at meetings as he's paying to his chainsaw, meetings would be far more effective and produce far more valuable results. Photo courtesy US National Park Service.
- Horn-blowing is making a contribution that reminds the group of something the horn-blower considers to have been his or her own personal achievement. See Backdoor Bragging.
- Rhetorical fallacies
- Rhetorical fallacies are errors of logic, used intentionally or not, that cause the group to come to erroneous conclusions unknowingly. There are dozens of different fallacies. Read about a few of the more common rhetorical fallacies.
- Electronic fiddling around
- If you want meetings to be worthwhile, give them your full attention. Composing or reading mail, texting, tweeting, surfing, or other forms of electronic fiddling around can cause us to lose contact with the discussion. Follow the chainsaw rule: If you can't do it while operating a chainsaw, don't do it while attending a meeting.
- As a group is discussing several related issues, it might slide into a discussion of the order of discussing the issues, without really making a conscious choice to discuss the discussion. Any conscious choice is more likely to lead to a productive outcome.Follow the chainsaw rule:
If you can't do it while
operating a chainsaw, don't
do it while attending
- Inappropriate problem solving
- Once the group identifies a problem, the temptation to dive into solving it is almost irresistible, even if complete information is lacking, or the group doesn't own the problem, or critical people are not in attendance. See "The Solving Lamp Is Lit," Point Lookout for September 6, 2006, for more.
- Even when we're solving a problem that is ours to solve, and even when we have the people and information we need, we can be distracted by the urge to solve it in an optimal way. Most of the problems modern organizations face don't actually have optimal solutions. Solutions have strengths and weaknesses, depending on our goals. There usually is no single best way. See "Holey Grails," Point Lookout for October 23, 2002, for more.
- Optimization, described above, entails discussing the best way to do something. Meta-optimization is a discussion of the best way to discuss optimizing something. A group that regularly gets so distracted that it enters a meta-optimization discussion is a group in need of distraction training.
One key to eliminating these distractions is making everyone aware of them. Pass this list around and see what happens. First in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Ethical Debate at Work: Part I
- When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Ethical Debate at Work: Part II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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