Monday, September 20, 2010

Meeting Differences

Well, it's funny how becoming a writer can really hone your perceptions. Or perhaps, being perceptive can really hone your writer-ness. I've been working in local government for awhile and have gotten used to the 'official meets shenanigans'-style that fills those meetings. There's a general leveling process in the local government meetings where I've been where people test the waters with humor and speaking their minds and the senior management encourages this ... to a point. While the bawdier meetings tend to be with people of the same, or similar levels, such as middle-management and their staff - and especially when its with the team leader and their staff - humor and free-spokenness also dominate in meetings with senior management and lower staff. Sure, people do censor themselves but not to the same extent as one might expect.

So then I attended a meeting filled with social workers, teachers, and nutritionists and found it to be quite different. Where we might have a fifteen-minute brain storming session scheduled, they took an hour and made sure that everyone spoke their piece. They spoke quieter, were much more politically correct, oozed politeness and gentleness, and used the sort of clarification and giving of alternatives structures that a psychologist would be proud of. In other words, they went out of their way to be inoffensive and inclusive. Their body language was kept more open and there were so many 'mm-hmms' to show they were listening / interested / agreeing that at times it felt like a meditation session.

While I have ridiculed their style a little, in truth there are many benefits to it in terms of inclusiveness. It was just that after dealing with a particular type of meeting style for so long, their version made me feel a little uncomfortable because it highlighted so many differences in communication and meeting styles. Here I was thinking that the local government forums and meetings had a good style, and here's a whole other group also having a good, but very different, style.

It just makes me want to go sit in on a business meeting and see if they're different again! Of course, maybe it just depends on the industry more than anything. If I sit in on a business meeting of a range of pen-pushers and policy-makers, it may well be the same (The Office's generally silliness ain't far off in my book - though luckily we don't have similar managers, ours are quite clever and nice to boot). Whereas if I sat in on bankers and accounters, or marketers and PR people, or the entertainment industry, it might be different again!

Do any of you have interesting meeting or business-style contrast stories to give?


  1. I was shocked when I moved from retail to the office environment. I found in the book store where I worked that the manager had an idea of what she wanted done, but never asked her employees whether it was feasible, so we were faced with the task of stocking items on the floor that there was no room for, and on top of that, never had time to organize the displays in order to make more room!

    Moving into an office environment was much more collaborative. My boss understands that everyone plays a part and is more than happy to hear about what's working and what's not.

  2. Retail, unfortunately, tends to accumulate a lot of bad stories. I guess the managerial skills that help one succeed in the retail market are simply not viable in the office environment?