This Wednesday: Seven things to say in a meeting to make yourself look good and someone else look bad.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 7 things to say in a meeting to make yourself look good and someone else look bad.

Ah, meetings. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Being happy at work is important, of course. Being with other people generally boosts mood, and ideally, meetings should be a source of energy, ideas, and collegiality. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Meetings are also a place where people jockey for position, work out disagreements (nicely or not-so-nicely), and hurt each other’s feelings.

In one of my previous job incarnations, I worked in a meeting-intensive environment. After a while, I noticed that one person, when in a meeting, consistently made me feel angry and defensive—but I couldn’t figure out why. He never attacked me, in fact, he was nice to me. Or so I thought. Then I took a closer look at the kinds of things he said.

If you’re looking for ways to assert power over other people, and in the process, very likely annoy or undermine them, try the following tips. Conversely, if you’re hoping NOT to annoy or undermine other people, avoid talking this way:

1. “I don’t need all the details. Let’s just get to the bottom line.” You imply that others are quibblers and small-minded technicians, while deflecting the possible need to master complicated details yourself.

2. “Well, these are the facts.” You emphasize that you attend to hard facts, while implying that others are distracted by prejudice, sentiment, and assumption.

3. “You might be right.” You seem open-minded while simultaneously undermining someone else’s authority and credibility.

4. “I’m wondering about ____. Pat, please get back to us on this.” You demonstrate your habit of reasoned decision-making, while making Pat (who may or may not actually report to you) do the necessary work and report back.

5. “You did a great job on that, Pat!” You show a positive attitude, while showing that you’re in the position to judge and condescend to Pat.

6. “I think what Pat is trying to say is…” You show that you’re a good listener and give credit to others, while demonstrating that you can take Pat’s simple thought further than Pat could.

7. “I can see why you might think that.” Variant: “I used to think that, too.” You sound sympathetic, while indicating that you’ve moved far ahead in understanding.

As I read this list, I realize that a person could say all these things without being undermining. A lot depends on context and motivation. Still, it’s useful to think about how your seemingly helpful comment might strike another person in the room!

What other actions make you unhappy in a meeting? When two people write each other notes or whisper, when someone is obviously reading unrelated material or a Blackberry…what am I forgetting?

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There’s a great post on First Ourselves about tips for forging stronger family connections. Lots of great suggestions here — some of which I’ve included in my Happiness Project so far, but I also got some new ideas for things to try.

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  • Karen

    Wow, this is a super interesting post, because I took a workshop late last year on running successful meetings and I’m pretty sure most of these comments are offered as suggestions for keeping the meeting on track. For example, there’s always someone who likes to hear themselves talk who goes on and on and on, outside the agenda point… the meeting leader needs to try to paraphrase Pat (#6) so someone else has as turn. And as long as they aren’t picking on one person only, the leader should be able to delegate tasks to various members of the team, to prep for the next meeting.
    I work at a large university and meetings and e-mail group lists take up over 60% of most workdays. I sincerely wish I had more ideas to make these things work better and more efficiently.

  • NIL

    This reminds me of the work by Suzette Haden Elgin on handling verbal abuse. I highly recommend her books.

  • Katie

    Gretchen, I don’t understand #5. Informal, positive feedback is necessary, so if you can’t say something as simple as “you did a great job on that” (when that’s what you really mean), without coming across as someone in a position to judge, how would you suggest providing positive feedback?