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Train-wreck meetings: A survival guide

There’s a pulsing, seething tension in the meeting room. It’s clear the Boss is not happy.

You’ve been through this before (mostly unscathed). There’s polite-but-stilted small talk. Then the Boss outlines the issue in menacingly measured tones. Some Poor Fool offers an “explanation” that sounds more like an “excuse.” And you can feel the Boss’s frustration go from a gentle simmer to a vigorous boil.

Poor Fool doesn’t know when to back off. He keeps going with the “explanation” which is already beginning to sound paper thin in the face of the Boss’s increasingly pointed interjections and growing frustration.

You, casual observer, are busy keeping your eyes on your empty notepad. Do you add your own two cents’ worth—a lifeline for your flailing colleague—and risk drawing the attention of the Boss’s laserbeam eyes? Or do you keep quiet and let the Poor Fool bear the brunt of the Boss’s impending tirade?

Thank god for the Skilled Negotiator, that cool, calm colleague who may or may not have undertaken diplomatic training with the UN. She edges in carefully, acknowledging the Boss’s frustrations, succinctly filtering the relevant points from Poor Fool’s ramblings, before sidestepping quickly to a plan of action. She paraphrases like a Quill-winning journalist, picking up each of the Boss’s points and articulating a couple of possible solutions. This, you realise, is the masterstroke—the Boss likes choosing from a range of options.  The tension eases; everyone exhales; there might even be some awkward laughter.

And then the meeting is over. If you escape without tears, you’ve done well. Without tears and with a plan of action, you’ve done even better. 

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