Friday, July 17, 2009

The Character of Meetings

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.'” -Dave Barry

Truer words were never spoken.

I've only had one real job, but sitting through ten years of faculty meetings has taught me a few things. I could go on and on about how amazing it is that former teachers (read: administrators) seemingly have no idea how to present information in an interesting, coherent fashion, but that's a subject for another blog.

What I'd like to share here is my observations of the audience members of these meetings. Not those talking, typically, but those being talked (down) to. There seem to be two distinct personality types which can be broken down into subgenres. To wit:

1. The Willing and Interested

Even if these people don't exactly like going to meetings, they sure haven't learned to loathe them, either. They don't constantly check the clock nor their watches, and they rarely groan audibly. Among this group are the three following characters:

A. The Riddler

The most earnest and insecure guy/gal in the room. Asks question after question in order to clarify what seems obvious to everyone else. Has never heard the expression "It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission." Not the sharpest crayon in the box; got straight B's all through high school because he/she worked his/her butt off and came in after school to ask what he/she should study for the test. Is terrible in sports, art, and social interaction because he/she has no natural inclination for anything.

Sample quote (true story): In response to a presentation about what to do during a "Columbine drill," where one must exit his/her room and lock the door from the outside, "I lose my keys a lot. What should I do?"

B. The Stickler

Follows all the rules to the letter. Is constantly taking notes during the meeting. Usually sits by him/herself, as almost everyone else finds him/her annoyingly anal and rigid. Most likely to be a virgin and/or member of the religious right. Will give others dirty looks in the copy room for "stealing" a paper clip or not resetting their codes. Would've been found goose-stepping across Berlin in the 30's. Favorite Office characters are Dwight and Angela.

Sample quote: "If I have to leave for a doctor's appointment at 12:32; is it ok if I sign out for 12:35, because it usually takes me three minutes to get to my car?"

C. The Anecdote Teller

Feels compelled to tell stories about his/her experiences or the way he/she does things. Can single-handedly elongate meetings by as many as 5-15 minutes. Is lonely and craves attention and affirmation. Doesn't want to go home because no one's there, or worse yet, they've stopped listening to his/her endlessly mind-numbing tales of workplace minutiae. Identifies with Striker in Airplane.

Sample quote (true story): In response to a lecture on not letting kids out to the bathroom too often, "That is true. I once let a girl out to go to the bathroom, and she came back with a soda...and a sweatshirt. I don't think she even went to the bathroom!"

Note: To my knowledge, no one has ever admitted to belonging to any of the aforementioned groups, yet we all know these people.

2. The Cynical and Resentful

These people regard meetings as sores on the backside of an already unbearable workday. Most of them have to be reminded repeatedly to attend and fill the air with profanities when they find a gathering is scheduled for that day. This population also divides itself into three categories:

D. The Goof-Off

He/she shows up, but is not especially interested in gleaning information from the proceedings. Often doesn't have a pen, so if a sign-in sheet is involved, will have to noisily bother other, more responsible attendees for a writing implement. Once an implement is obtained, The Goof-Off will doodle, pass notes, and create derisive nicknames for the members of the first, more involved group. Will screw around on the internet or read a newspaper if not monitored. Audibly prays for death if meeting drags past an hour.

Sample Quote: "Oh, please God. Do not let (fill in Anecdote Teller's name here) raise his/her hand again. I will beat myself to death with the corner of this table."

E. The Challenger

Bristles at authority and has good job security. Knows that nothing short of a personal attack or an openly racist remark will get him/her reprimanded. Waits for the boss to say something that the boss isn't totally committed to, then tears into whatever plan or edict is being proposed/issued. Often cites years of experience as reason for his/her expertise on the subject. Makes other, more compliant meeting attendees uncomfortable with near-open hostility.

Sample Quote (actual): "Don't worry, everybody. They'll tell us to do this for a little while, and then it'll pass. Heck, you (pointing at the principal) probably won't be around much longer anyway."

F. The Openly Disdainful

A close cousin to The Challenger (and nearly always a male), his job is also assured in the long term. His watch is permanently set on half-past give-a-crap. He walks in 10 minutes late and leaves whenever he believes the thrust of the meeting has come to an end, but always before The Riddlers and Sticklers can ask any clarifying questions. While at the meeting, he'll make a show of how little he's paying attention by wearing sunglasses, leaning back in his chair, and sighing loudly. Will often ask annoying questions of his colleagues the next day about the content of the meeting he worked so hard to ignore.

Sample Quote: "What did I miss?"

Do you recognize these from your office? What type are you? For the record, I'm a combination of The Goof-Off and The Challenger.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

I'm probably 80% Goof-Off and 20% Challenger.

zia said...

Just one more reason I'm glad to be freelance. My personal theory is that those who can do--and those who can't meeting about doing. Then they outsource to someone like me.