Unmasking the managers
A guide to classifying executives by their expressions and actions during meetings
Managers can be classified in many conventional ways—based on their functional expertise, performance, potential, gender, qualifications and age. Our human resource teams are experts at all these classifications, but most of these methods miss the point because they don’t measure how engaged the manager is with his or her workplace. On the other hand, an excellent method of measuring how connected managers are with their workplaces is to classify them by how they look during a meeting. By “look”, I don’t mean how managers dress or preen, though that carries a lot of meaning too. I mean how managers actually look and behave during a meeting. Since there are no known scientific studies on this important aspect of our workplaces, this column has put together a guide to classifying managers by their expressions during meetings, for your easy reference. When you are next in a meeting, try to mentally classify your colleagues using this guide. It will give you new insights about your team, and we promise it will also be fun.
The Eager Beaver is all ears to what the boss is saying during a meeting. He (or she) doesn’t want to miss a single word, and is most anxious that he should not lose out on any pearls of wisdom which may roll by on the conference table. During all meetings, he sports a picture of total concentration, looking and listening with wide open eyes and ears, and taking copious notes of everything the boss says. He fills many pages with his detailed notes, leaving many wondering whether they are missing out on valuable stuff that he is hearing. Sometimes, you can even hear him say: “Boss, that was an excellent point, can you repeat it once more for me?” Eager Beaver is there to learn, and to impress the boss with his listening skills. Don’t ever disturb him when the session is on.
The Deep Thinker has a far-away look during meetings. The impression you get is that he is reflecting deeply on the proceedings, on everything that has been said until now. He never writes, because he believes in absorbing everything directly into his deep and capacious mind. Sometimes, his eyes are even closed—now, that could be mistaken for sleeping during a boring session, but don’t ever make that error. The closed eyes actually indicate meditative reflection, and signal a highly evolved manager who absorbs only the truths and shuts out all the noise. Sometimes, such deep thinking is accompanied by gentle snoring, at which point you should silently prod this colleague, at the risk of interrupting his train of silent thought.
This look is popular among many managers. They keep nodding their heads during meetings, mostly without saying anything. Of course, there are different varieties of nods, which you need to recognize. One sort of nod, up and down, signals agreement with what is being said. Another nod, sideways, signals some degree of disagreement. Some nods, which go both upwards and sideways, are confusing in their intent. Nods can be rapid, or slow, conveying different things. Sometimes, these managers will seek friends and allies in the meeting room, look at them, nod and smile. Nods enable managers to silently convey their views, without taking the risk of standing up and speaking. The Nodding Head is an engaged manager, but one who also believes in harmony and smooth progress of the meeting.
Here is a manager who feels that the meeting at hand is a total waste of time, or is dragging on for too long, and is constantly looking at his watch. He looks at it when he comes into the conference room, and keeps looking at it from time to time. It is likely that he may ask everyone to do a time-check at some point during the meeting. While all this activity does not make the time go faster, it indicates to everyone else in the room that the Impatient Watchman will soon leave. And when he leaves the meeting eventually on the dot of the hour after one final look at his watch, his expression says it all—Guys, I know how to keep to my time, and many of you don’t.
In India, where many of our meetings drag on for too long, we can learn something from him.
This manager has a “digital” sort of look on his face throughout meetings, because he is always waiting for the opportunity to take the next peek at one of his digital devices. He believes that he is capable of multitasking with ease. After all, a little bit of texting or emailing or WhatsApping never distracted anyone from the main discussion at hand. He may occasionally make a comment or observation to show everyone else how focused he is on the content of the meeting. It is unlikely, though, that he will add much value to the discussion, for his thoughts are mostly floating away in cyberspace. You will see him smile or frown, but this will be based on the content of the latest digital message he has received, and not what is happening in the meeting. The Digital Networker generally has harmless intent and a low attention span, but he can be terribly distracting to others and, of course, he is very disengaged.
This is the most intriguing type of look, and often difficult to read. This person sits through the entire meeting with great poise, but never once contributes to the proceedings. Sometimes, he reflects a superior look, as if to indicate that the subject of the meeting is below his standard. At other times, you will see an inscrutable look on his face. Often, there’s a forbidding look too, which ensures that no one else in the meeting conjures up the courage to speak to him. Unlike the Impatient Watchman, he is no hurry to leave. You wonder why he is there, and what he is up to. All this adds to the intrigue. In simple truth, he may have failed to understand anything said during the meeting. But he could also be a spy, or a disinterested individual, or he could be a man who has come into the meeting entirely by mistake.
Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group, and is the author of the book Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories From A Timeless Institution. He thinks the best way to look good at meetings is to keep your ears and mind open at all times, but to open your mouth only when you have something new and relevant to say.