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April 8, 2009 Volume 9, Issue 14
 
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Discussion Distractions: Part II

by

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
A man using a chainsaw

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.

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.
Horn-blowing
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.
Meta-discussion
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
a meeting
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.
Optimization
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.
Meta-optimization
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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: Part I  Next Issue
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101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo 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

A dense Lodgepole Pine stand in Yellowstone National Park in the United StatesComing February 17: Conversation Despots
Some people insist that conversations reach their personally favored conclusions, no matter what others want. Here are some of their tactics. Available here and by RSS on February 17.
Donald Trump, a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2016And on February 24: Allocating Airtime: Part I
The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here? Available here and by RSS on February 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenKFvFNBIVqmITcHMbner@ChacEnDWytxDIRODnveuoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

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AlthoHigh-Voltage Brainstormingugh most of us are very familiar with a technique known as brainstorming, many overestimate its effectiveness. Serious research indicates that, as commonly practiced, brainstorming produces results that tend to overlook some brilliant ideas, and might even include ideas that actually have little promise. In this eye opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides us as we explore the sources of the deficiencies of brainstorming, and then suggests concrete tips for mitigating those deficiencies. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

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