Last year, as I prepared myself to take the small business world by storm, my coach pointed out this flaw in me. I don't enjoy working in groups, unless I'm the leader, in which case I still think I'd be better off working alone. I dislike arguments and usually react by retreating into my shell and not participating at all. Drone on and on about a topic you know nothing about and my mind will catch the next flight to the Virgin Islands -- wake me up when it's over.
Although I scored very highly in creativity, intelligence, and autonomy, "Does not work well with others," isn't really something to be proud of! So I've been building up to it, working in pairs, groups of three and four. It was time to try out for the big league.
Last week, I had the opportunity to really put myself to the test. I signed myself up to attend the type of gathering I detest above all others: a dreaded committee meeting. I've been doing so many other things that are out of my comfort zone lately - what was one more? And besides, I really wanted to help.
The two hours of torture that ensued brought it all flooding back: a lifetime of meetings, my intense loathing for the whole process, the sheer disbelief that anyone in their right mind would be sitting there willingly! But I soldiered on, telling myself that it was just me, that I was the odd man out. I forced myself to stay focused - my mind did not leave the building and attend a beach party instead. Although I desperately wanted to bolt, as evidenced by my legs, which refused to be still, and my pen, which had decided it would rather be a twirling baton, I remained seated until the end. I even forced myself to open my mouth and participate - an action I usually either find intimidating, or not worth the effort. I offered myself up for sub-committees, which I can actually deal with and may even enjoy.
I also did something completely out of character: I challenged someone who had been whining and wasting everyone's time (well mine, at least) for a good hour and a half. You see, there were three people at this meeting who did, I confess, cause my otherwise gentle mind to turn to thoughts of violence and murder. They were the types who make all of my other reasons for hating meetings pale by comparison. There's at least one in every bunch, but three out of ten was more than I could take. They were the victims, the martyrs, the ones that insisted it was all impossible --- but they would do it anyway. They were the ones who only came up with problems, but would neither offer nor accept solutions. In short: THE LONG-WINDED WHINERS.
After listening to them all disrupt, interrupt, pontificate, and complain for well over an hour, I finally lost my patience.
"It can't be done because we don't have all of the information we need," one of them said, "but I'll do it anyway."
That was the last straw! "What information do you need?" I asked, my gaze hardening to steel.
"We don't have all of the information."
"What information do you have?"
"We need to put together an information package."
"What information are you still missing and where can we get it?"
"Who's on first?"
"No, Who's on second."
We were getting nowhere, so my interrogation was cut short by our fearless leader. The meeting finally ended a while later and I couldn't put my jacket on or pack up my stuff fast enough. I was in a pissy mood and in need of a stiff drink and a cigarette! But I did it, and I'm chomping at the bit for more. And while it may not have produced the results I was looking for, it did feel empowering both to participate, and to open my mouth and stand up to the big bully.
I've been thinking about it ever since and I really think there should be some golden rules for meetings. This is how I see it:
1. Be positive
2. Be supportive
3. Be constructive
4. If you accept a task, do it gracefully
5. If you don't know what you're talking about - shut the fuck up!
6. If someone else does know what they're talking about - shut up and listen!
7. If you point out problems, be prepared to offer, look for, and accept solutions
8. Do not speak uninterrupted for more than 1 or 2 minutes, unless you're in charge
9. If the meeting is voluntary and you feel put upon, you shouldn't be there
10. If the meeting is obligatory and you don't want to be there, I wish you luck