Another Meeting?

Published 09/02/2023 | Author Dr Peter Hersey
Dr Peter Hersey

Pete is a Consultant in ICM and anaesthesia in Sunderland and South Tyneside, and a member of FICM Board.

​​​​​​​Meetings can be fascinating places, even if the topic at hand is dry. There’s a skill to being a meeting attendee that I think can be learned, and whilst I make no claim to be an expert, the following learning points include mistakes I’m embarrassed to have made…

  1. Meetings should generate work – if they don’t, no progress has been made. When you attend a meeting be prepared to leave with a list of tasks. 

  1. No-one ever sustained an industrial injury in a meeting, and tea and coffee are often provided. Therefore, don’t expect sympathy for being in ‘back-to-back meetings all day’.  

  1. There will be conflicting views – if there aren’t the wrong people have been invited. If you leave a meeting feeling you have ‘won an argument’ with a colleague you have lost. If everyone agreed with you after you’d made your case that’s fine, but if instead you shouted loudest or destroyed another viewpoint you’ve persuaded no-one and the issue will come round again but with trenches dug deeper.   

  1. If you are going into a meeting with relative strangers or are nervous, say something as soon as you enter the room. It doesn’t matter what (within reason!) but those first words are akin to you jumping into the swimming pool rather than sitting on the side. 

  1. Every meeting is important to someone, so if you’re bored at least try to hide it.  

  1. At some meetings your attendance isn’t going to make any difference yet you’ve still been invited. In these situations, it’s OK to contact the chair to confirm that they really want you there and to ask what they think you can bring. 

  1. Everyone’s time is precious, so think twice before bringing up unnecessary detail (or anecdotes). Be succinct. Paraphrasing what someone else has just said will make people less likely to listen to your next point as they’ll assume it’s going to be unoriginal. 

  1. A common complaint is that nothing is decided in meetings. Take some reassurance from this, as it means that it’s unlikely you’ll leave dealing with the consequences of a big decision that negatively impacts on you. If something huge is decided it’s rarely final, as once the detail gets discussed things often change.    

  1. If you have genuine concerns about anything that might be decided or said in a meeting, let the chair know in advance. They will be grateful as there’s nothing worse for a chair than an unwelcome surprise. This strategy is a bit of an ace card though; overuse can seem a bit Machiavellian. 

  1. Enjoy some of the pantomime that meetings bring. Buzzwords and phrases can be a source of much entertainment – for full bonus points invent your own and see if you can get it to catch on! 

  1. Pay attention to the introductions so you don’t get caught out by not knowing who’s in the room. And even if you think it’s true, when it’s your turn never say “Everyone here knows who I am” – If there’s one person who doesn’t you’ve probably made them feel insignificant.   

  1. If you can’t see the hierarchy in the room you’re probably near the top of it. Be aware that doctors are assumed to know what they’re talking about, and the hidden culture might make other staff groups intimidated. In turn, you must also try not to be intimidated by people with fancy job titles.   

  1. Don’t underestimate anyone and listen to everyone. 

  1. There are various behaviours you can adopt to show how important you are. These include turning up late, reading your emails, answering your phone and namedropping. 

  1. No shouting or physical violence. Ever. 

  1. Read the enclosures but assume no one else has. If you’ve written an enclosure don’t let the fact that it’s gone unread offend you, it’s not personal. If someone has clearly put a lot of effort into an enclosure, especially if it’s on the agenda ‘for information only’ find a way to acknowledge the work and to thank them. 

  1. A significant part of your role is to find issues with what’s being proposed, but you won’t win favour by finding issue with everything that’s proposed. If you identify a problem you should also identify at least part of the solution. Solutions needn’t all be perfect, sometimes good enough is just that. 

  1. The correct response to ‘do you have any other business?’ is usually ‘no thank you’. It is never ‘can I just go back to…’ 

Hopefully you’ll buy in to some of these ideas and be able to loop back to this space for actionable quick wins. Or perhaps not.