Photo: Jayachandran/Mint
Photo: Jayachandran/Mint

Opinion | Another bad meeting? Help is at work

From surfing the Internet mindlessly to enjoying long walks and a cup of green tea—six strategies that can help recover from official sessions that often leave us in a funk

A lot has been written about how we can make meetings in our workplaces more effective. Fewer and shorter meetings, clearer agendas, focused discussions, no long-winded presentations—all these desirable actions are now well known. They are even being adopted by some wise managers.

But the harsh truth is that we still continue to constantly face many bad meetings that leave us in a funk. Unless we find good, practical ways of quickly recovering from such useless sessions, our entire day goes for a toss.

Joseph Allen, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Utah, says that when an employee sits through an ineffective meeting, their brain power essentially gets drained away. From experience, I can testify that this melting of the brain then leads to a sharp decline in productivity. This happens because the mind winds down to a standstill, frustrated, even numbed by the terrible meeting that has just concluded.

For all of us who have felt this mind-draining sensation after meetings, what we need is a toolkit for quick recovery. Here is a beginner’s guide, based not on detailed research but on total commonsense.

HALF-HOUR OF ME-TIME

To unwind from one meeting and restore mental balance before you take up your next bit of work, you have to provide yourself at least half-hour of personal space. During this time, reflect a little on the meeting gone by, and then let it pass completely. If possible, think of some ridiculous things that were said during the meeting and smile, even if you have to occasionally laugh at yourself.

Nothing is that serious, and laughter always helps. A long walk helps too. I know a colleague who promptly vanishes after each meeting, in a hurry, and I used to often wonder why he does so. Now I think I know.

FIND A COMFORTING PLACE

When you leave a meeting that has been particularly threatening or confrontational, it helps to dump your papers on your desk, and go immediately to a place that you consider to be safe and comforting. This could be the office canteen, or a close friend’s desk, or even a café down the road. Sit there for some time, even if you sit in total silence. The important thing is to distance yourself physically, far away from the venue of the earlier hostilities.

Slowly, the friendly vibes return, and you find your anger or helplessness melting away. That puts you in a better position to make the mental switch to your next task.

GO CYBER-WANDER

While I am not a fan of aimless digital browsing and socializing, I acknowledge that such mindless cyber-wandering often has a therapeutic effect on a disturbed mind.

Therefore, I have no hesitation in recommending this practice to everyone trying to bounce back from a bad meeting. Pick up your mobile phone, browse your favourite shopping sites, WhatsApp a few random friends with lots of emojis thrown in, wander around your Facebook or Instagram. If you are particularly upset, try watching some inane TikTok vidoes. All this should work like magic.

And if you are the gaming type, play a few favourite digital games. I am told that the violent sort of games can even help dissipate your anger.

LIKE-MINDED COLLEAGUES

If you have had a bad meeting, it is likely that a few other participants, who are like-minded, have also suffered a similar fate. And with experience, each of us knows who our like-minded colleagues are. So it helps to do an informal catch-up with these colleagues post the meeting, just to compare notes. This helps build invaluable perspective on what really happened in the meeting, and why.

Such conversations throw up interesting analyses of matters such as the undercurrents that ran through the meeting, or the unbearable incompetence of a few individuals who dominated the discussions. There’s nothing like a conversation between friends to help you relax, and prepare for your next task ahead.

IT’S TIME TO SAY NO

If you have just come out of a bad meeting, a good recovery strategy is to resolve not to attend any more badly conducted or ineffective meetings. Note down the sort of meetings that put you off completely, or where nothing of value really happens, or sessions where you have little to contribute.

Then tell yourself that you will not participate in any of these specific sort of meetings in the future, unless you are compelled to. After that go ahead, and say a firm “No" to such meeting requests. That decision alone will lift a big weight off your shoulders, and you can move forward with a spring in your step, to some other work that gives you real joy.

DRINK IT UP

For many of us, the best and easiest way to recover from a poor meeting is a hot cup of coffee or tea. There is inexhaustible warmth, happiness and magic in these wonderful beverages. Your weary body and mind will perk up right away, as you sip your cappuccino or green tea, and contemplate nice things which are far more important than the frustrating session that has just concluded. Keep a nice, happy looking mug on your table, for these restorative coffee breaks.

If possible, get yourself some great tasting single-origin coffee that takes you deep into the sort of places that nourish your soul.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. His new novel, An Extreme Love Of Coffee, can help you relax from all sorts of meetings very quickly.

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