Friday

Workplace Stress Trap - I Hate Work Meetings Because I Look So Dumb


How much time do you spend in meetings at work? Far too much time is the usual response. But what if you are hopeless in meetings but good at your desk and other work? What if you feel you look dumb all the time at meetings? Is this a workplace stress trap that has caught you up? If so, let's think about how often this happens and how you can deal with it.

The first reality is that most people get frustrated in meetings. The agenda seems too long; there is very little specific purpose to the meetings; there are few positive outcomes; and there are too many people sitting there. I often look around at meetings and calculate the per hour cost of the meeting. Let us imagine that there are 12 people meeting where the average cost of salary plus benefits is probably $80 per person per hour then you have a meeting that is costing nearly $1000 per hour. You would expect a lot of outcomes from this investment.

Another issue with meetings is the social dynamic that plays out. The well-known cognitive psychologist Edward de Bono says that meetings involve a lot of payback and inter-personal pressure. A person proposes a motion and then immediately makes eye contact with colleagues to gather support for that idea and motion. A sense of loyalty requires the colleague to support the motion because the person deserves support. So the value of the motion is less important than the interpersonal support. De Bono says that the most efficient meetings to cut down on the social dynamic is to either meet in a completely dark room or have all the chairs facing out from the table so that people cannot see each other. For a lot of people, this meeting social dynamic and interaction can be extremely stressful. For others, it is the hierarchical and competitive dynamic that makes them feel inadequate and dumb and adds to meeting stress; that is, looking silly in front of supervisors and bosses.

How to Escape the Stress of Meetings
If you feel dumb at every meeting you attend you have to ask the question:"Did I prepare adequately for this meeting?" Some people float into a meeting without the background reading and preparation. They are constantly trying to play catch-up because they did not get across the issues from the last meeting, failed to do the required reading, did not have follow-up discussions with other team members, and generally treated the meeting as though it was an obligation not an opportunity. So the first way to overcome the workplace stress trap of feeling dumb at meetings is to become informed.

But some people feel inadequate generally and try to compensate for their inadequacy by talking excessively and unnecessarily. A good motto is 'God gave me two ears and one mouth so that I would listen twice as much as I talked.' This is very good advice for meeting novices. Listen carefully, take notes so that you're well organized, only speak if you have something important to contribute, and be brief. Try not to speak more than a few times per meeting so that your colleagues will expect that what you have to say is worthwhile. And they will listen. In this way, you will no longer feel dumb.

From a psychological point of view, the reality is that most of us are anxious about our performance. We tend to be more negative and self-critical than positive and self-supportive. This negative self talk increases stress and anxiety and reduces our ability to relieve stress and tension. If we add to this the workplace stress trap of not feeling competent at meetings a sense of anticipatory anxiety and reduced feelings of competence and self-efficacy, we compound our feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. The sounds like a lot of jargon but the reality is that if you want to avoid the stress of being dumb at meetings be well-prepared, be prudent and thoughtful in what you say, and believe in yourself.

Dr Jeff, a psychologist, writes about workplace stress, personal stress, interpersonal stress, and how to manage stress. On his blog, http://www.drjeffbailey.com, he answers questions from readers. He works hard to make his articles practical and helpful and all of his articles are based on sound research evidence and extensive clinical experience. Please go to his Dr Jeff blog to get your free report on stress.

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