Maybe this is revealing my glass-half-full mindset, but I have a philosophy of “more than zero” that I apply to many areas of my life. The idea of “more than zero” was born on a walk with my friend in Northeastern Arizona almost a decade ago. We were both trying to improve our fitness levels after having kiddos, and would meet up a few times a week to walk, jog, and do quick workouts. It’s possible we sometimes refreshed our electrolytes with…margaritas.
One day my friend mentioned that she was irritated because we’d only had time to walk a mile. My response? “It was more than zero.” I have an intense drive to complete tasks and to consistently improve, and when I don’t, it can upset the applecart. So much that I can make myself sick. The idea of “more than zero” came from an attempt to find moderation in my desire for perfection. While I didn’t always apply it to my frustrations with myself, I tried. One attempt at changing my mindset was more than zero.
There is almost no place in my professional life that I’ve applied the “more than zero” philosophy to more than meetings. I hate meetings. I really, really hate them. Meetings bring me a sense of flight-or-flight that is unparalleled within my workplace. Is it because I’m slow to process what’s being presented? Or because I’m an introvert who struggles with when to speak up? Like a new jump roper trying to jump into a round of double dutch, I find the communication patterns of meetings baffling.
This intense aversion to meetings has driven me, at least once, to therapy. While the initial intent of the therapy sessions was to work on some personal goals, the purpose of the sessions shifted very quickly to, “How to talk less at meetings and surprise people with my patience.” For reals. When I was working for DoDEA schools, the level of professionalism in the workplace was much higher. I had a strong level of trust for leadership and their ability to mitigate unprofessional behavior. Despite this, I bought an audiobook to listen to on meeting days that had a title like, “5 Great Communication Strategies for Professionals” or somesuch. I must have listened to that book five times in the two years I worked for DoDEA.
Last summer when I was driving through Flagstaff, AZ, I encountered the mug pictured above (and have been regretting not buying during every meeting I sit through). This issue was magnified by the school closures. Running a meeting over video conference with thirty-five, or even eight, people and expecting participation is not realistic. And while remote learning conditions during the pandemic created extreme conditions, meetings were challenging for me even before school shutdowns. Why?
- Everyone’s not on the same page. If you distrust between colleagues onto a lack of shared vision, it’s hard to get any real work done. In many cases, we haven’t picked our teams, and even if we have things go wrong at times. If everyone agreed and adhered to a set of norms, meetings would be a much safer space.
- They move too fast. Some people are really clever, just naturals at seeing situations for what they are in 30 seconds or less. I am not one of those people. When a situation arises where feedback is needed, the topic has already moved on by the time I have formulated my response. Receiving information that may need more than a cursory yes or no answer could help all teachers formulate more thoughtful feedback.
- So much of what’s being communicated could be in an email. Admittedly, my admin has worked to cancel their portions of meetings when their message could be delivered via email. I’m so thankful for that level of efficiency! If this isn’t happening at your school, suggest it! It’s fair to ask, “Do we really need to have this meeting today or can the information be shared in an email?”
How do I apply the ‘More than Zero’ philosophy to meetings? If any of the three suggestions above go positively, then a change was made once, which is more than zero. Did I manage to stay quiet when I wanted to be a disruptor? even if it was just this week, that was one time more than the previous week. I use this philosophy to help buoy my attitude about meetings, and to give a sense of reality about the success (or failure) of a meeting.
What is it about meetings that makes them so intolerable? Do you have any strategies for mentally and emotionally surviving meetings? Please share in the comments!