When Meetings Go Bad


Remember Gary Larson’s great cartoon: a jar of mayonnaise in a refrigerator wearing a burglar’s mask and pointing a gun at the other condiments? Its great caption "When mayonnaise goes bad" still makes me chuckle.

I watched a meeting "go bad" as the leader and the participants’ positions on a controversial issue became farther and farther apart with each comment that was offered. When this meeting could have produced a "meeting of the minds," what was making it a sour as mayo "gone bad"?

The leader had opened with an explanation of an unpopular policy which had been announced but not yet implemented.

One by one, attendees succinctly and politely, voiced their respective concerns about the policy.

Every comment was answered with "Here’s all the research we did to decide this," "Every other organization does it this way," and other "You just don’t understand" defenses.

None of the participants felt as if their ideas were being heard, just met with a counter-punch.

Finally, one person stated what he saw happening ("You won’t even consider our ideas. Let’s work it out together rather than you just telling us how life will be). The leader’s answer: "I am listening. I have a note-taker writing down everything all of you say."

No one knew notes were being taken. All appearances signaled: "If I educate you and repeat my position enough times, you’ll agree with me and go back to work."

The gap between leader and participants became wider and wider. Eventually, people began leaving the meeting. Both "sides" left holding their original positions, additionally laden with negative emotions.

The outcome could have been positive and collaborative if the leader had responded to all comments with: "I hear you," "We’ll consider it," "We’re writing this down," or something similar. He didn’t need to indicate that he would use the idea or even that he liked it. Just that he heard it.