Tag Archives: business

Survival Tips for Deadly Boring Meetings

Deadly boring meetings are one of the hazards of office life. They don’t actually take your life (most of the time), but they can make you wish they would. (There have been stories about office workers who died in their cubicles and went undiscovered for days, but these are largely untrue. No matter how rancid the office refrigerator smells, a decomposing body surely out-ranks it. Though too-energetic air conditioning can delay the process. But I digress.)

One meeting that I was in was so memorably boring that I became fascinated with the ear hair of the man sitting next to me. I couldn’t imagine how the individual fibers got so long while escaping his notice as well as his ears. They weren’t just protruding from inside his ears; they had migrated to his earlobes and whatever the technical term is for those folds and channels of the ear. I thought that he might be turning into a werewolf and that, being within chomping range, I would be his first victim. Needless to say, I didn’t pay much attention to the agenda.

Aside from werewolf-watching, though, there are plenty of activities to keep you alert – or, more importantly – looking alert during those agenda-setting meetings, pre-meeting meetings, meetings, and post-mortem meetings (especially appropriate if someone actually has died of boredom), not to mention stand-up meetings, which will be mercifully short if there is a quorum of women wearing high heels. (I mistakenly typed “high hells” there, which is a slip you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out.)

So what can I recommend to keep you breathing in and out while that guy from IT rattles on about bandwidth and the CEO decides bandwidth actually means how much work she can get out of each of you? Take up a new career. Here are some suggestions.

Take up poetry. This has the added advantage that you look like you are actually taking notes. Of course, you can always draw boxes and weapons on your legal pad or play Candy Crush with the sound off on your tablet, but your arm and hand motions will give you away. No, you should be writing down actual words. Pay attention to the office smarty-pants and write down words he uses like “deleterious” (and other words of three or more syllables). By the end of the meeting, you’ll have some serious free verse. Maybe you can even get it published!

Take up sculpture. There are usually paper clips and coffee stirrers available at every meeting. If not, BYO. Then twist and sculpt away. This has the advantage of keeping your hands busy so you don’t strangle anyone. After a bit of practice, one man I know was able to make a recognizable figure of Don Quixote and a windmill. (OK, we were in a bar and they were margarita stirrers, but the idea is the important thing.) As the meeting ends, subtly slide your sculpture in front of someone else’s chair. If you’re caught, claim that you have a more appalling nervous habit (I recommend rhinotillexomania) and your therapist suggested you try this instead.

Take up musical theater. This is one of my favorites, and can also be made to look like you’re taking notes. Take any musical you’re particularly fond of (I like The Mikado), and recast it using only the people sitting at the table. Would the CFO make a good Pooh-Bah? Would the comptroller do well as Katisha? Then imagine them playing the roles. Afterward, you can recast it with the worst possible employee playing each role. (A variant of this is to recast an old musical with current actors – Kevin Kline and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Man of La Mancha, for example.)

Take up psy ops. This is just plain fun, although it doesn’t result in any notes on your pad or tablet, so perhaps you might combine it with one of the other techniques. Stare attentively at whoever’s speaking, but focus your gaze not on her eyes, but slightly above her left ear (aim for the tip). Or at the knot on the marketing manager’s tie. This can cause distraction – even actual twitching – and no one can tell that you are doing anything. (I understand this is an actual interrogation technique meant to throw the subject off balance.)

You could, I guess, go back to Office Bingo and mark off squares when anyone says “synergistic” or “incentivized” or “skate to where the puck will be,” but when you all yell “Bingo!,” at the same time, the game is over.

Team Eating

I’ve never been any good at team eating. And I’m not referring to those idiotic competitions to see who can eat the most hot dogs in under a minute (which I believe are individual events anyway). Not that I think I would be any good at those, either. I belch too often to get any kind of rhythm going.

A group of friends eating at a restaurantNo, where I fail is at business dining. Oh, I can make it through an isolated lunch or even an occasional dinner. It’s the day-to-day eating events that leave me stymied.

The company lunchroom is as terrifying to me as a high school cafeteria. I never get to sit at the table with the cool kids or even the audiovisual club. And since a tuna sandwich takes approximately three minutes to eat – maybe five, if you have carrot sticks or yogurt, there’s no good way to stretch it out.

You’d think that my usual strategy – bringing along a book – would allow for some first-class work-related eavesdropping. But no. People get suspicious if you don’t turn the pages, and any book worth its tiny paper package of salt will prove distracting right before the team eaters get to the really juicy stuff – and I don’t mean ripe peaches.

If the lunch culture at the office (and here I’m not referring to yogurt) involves dining at local establishments, the problem is even worse. Even if you want to be a team eater, only the truly pathetic will attempt the “Can I come too?” ploy. It works, in the sense that hardly anyone has the meatballs to say no, but it only leads to groups of employees hustling out a fire door that’s not near your desk the next time.

If you’re a brave soul and decide to eat out alone, trusty book in hand, you may encounter the horror of sauntering into a restaurant where a tableful of your co-workers have already gathered. At that point the only thing to do is nod politely while the other diners pretend their mouths are full and wave a cordial fork in your direction. If you’re a grump, you can hope they flick salad dressing in someone’s eye.

But by far the worst team eating events are picnics, cookouts, pizza parties, and other mandatory frivolities put on by the company. These may be billed as voluntary events, but believe me, they aren’t. If you do decide to forego the games of water balloon volleyball or bingo (with prizes “donated” by your suppliers) in favor of retreating to a cool, dim nearby watering hole, you leave yourself open to being the object of whispered, eye-darting conversations in the lunchroom for at least the next month. Plus, you’ll have to avoid making eye contact with everyone else who slunk off to the same watering hole.

What’s the solution? Is there a solution? A number of people I know just read their books and ignore coworkers back. Some eat at their desks, though honestly, you’ve got to get out of that hell-cube sometime or you’ll grow corners.

Maybe the best solution is to take a large batch of brownies – they don’t even have to be home-made – and offer them around. Brownies are a kind of currency that buys you a place at the lunch table. Especially if they’re “special” brownies (depending on where you work, of course). Oh, and mix it up. Cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts – anything suitably sweet says, “Invite me!”

Then feel free to dish about someone else who isn’t there. You’ll be a team eater in no time.

What’s a Family? Not This.

blood family

I believe this is true, but it’s not what I want to rant about today.

There are several types of families, depending on whom you ask. There are blood family, extended family, chosen family, and the family-that-dare-not-speak-its-name (at least in some circles). You can have quite a jolly time debating which exist and which are better than the others. I say family is as family does and leave it at that.

The one kind of family that I believe does not exist is the corporate family. It is a big, fat, self-serving, pants-on-fire lie. But it’s still very popular and swallowed whole by many.

It’s when a company or business tries to convince employees that it is really like a family.

They do this to create warm, fuzzy feelings and make the workers think that management has their back. While that may be true of some (mostly smaller) businesses, the majority of businesses simply want to make money for the minority; that is, for the owners, upper management, and shareholders.

Is that the way families work? Mom and Dad cutting the kids’ allowances and assigning more chores so that the parents can get a bonus or a vacation?

I didn’t think so.

And speaking of family types, the business-as-family model is almost invariably paternal and authoritarian. Papa knows best and issues the orders. Everyone else carries them out. Do real families like that exist? Of course. But it’s hardly a model that promotes self-esteem in anyone but the father. Imagine whst it does to minimum-wage workers.

We all know by now that, legally, officially, corporations are people, so it almost makes sense to say that a business can be a family. But think about it. Do you really want Father Wal-Mart or, God help us, Mother Koch, or even Cousin Trojan?

I have a very good family, thank you, made up of relatives, friends, loved ones, animals, and people who care for me and each other, with reciprocal having of each other’s back.

I don’t need another one.

Especially not a corporation that pretends to be a family.