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The best time for a meeting is no meeting at all – unless you’re a Meeting Whisperer

By December 24, 2023No Comments

(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)


Want to have a successful meeting? Don’t meet at 2.36pm.

According to a new survey of more than 2,000 employees, people typically “hit the wall” around that time. The “post-lunch slump” may be caused by personal habits such as lack of sleep, not drinking enough water, not getting enough exercise and an overall poor diet. But the problem is exacerbated by the meetings themselves, which are oftentimes “monotonous” and “overly lengthy”.

But here’s my suggestion: how about not meeting at all? Does that sound radical? It may if you work for a larger company. That’s because the employees at large companies who I know seem to be going to meetings all day. And they all seem to hate it. Except for one type of employee: the Meeting Whisperer. You know who this is.

That’s the person who fills up their entire schedule with meetings although no one’s every really seen them contribute to any. The Meeting Whisperer is always taking notes and frequently murmurs in agreement with others who participate. They’re generally representing some part of the corporate overhead machine and roll their eyes in agreement whenever someone complains about the excessive number of meetings in their company. But secretly they love it. Meeting Whisperers feed off of meetings.

The Meeting Whisperer is expert at attending meetings and saying nothing. Their real talent is emerging from each meeting without actually owning any tasks or responsibilities. This is a gift. But it’s a gift that is quickly going out of fashion.

Why? Because according to the Wall Street Journal, tens of thousands of workers have been laid off by big companies in just the past year. Big brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Citigroup, Charles Schwab and T-Mobile have all announced or implemented big layoffs. Who are these unfortunate souls? It’s generally not those on the shop floor or the lower-level staffers grinding out the work. I’m betting that it’s primarily the Meeting Whisperers. And I bet that these companies won’t even notice their absence. In fact, they are likely to see higher profits as a result.

Where will these people find work now? Maybe at a small business? Perhaps.

Small businesses are desperate for talent. According to job search platform ZipRecruiter, businesses with fewer than 10 employees made up more than 20% of all job openings in September, which was the highest share on record. This number has risen more than 20% from a year earlier while openings at larger companies have fallen during the same period.

This is an opportunity for the Meeting Whisperer, but only if they agree to take a hard look in the mirror and change their ways. If they’re honest with themselves, then they’ll understand that they won’t be able to practice their art in the same way that they did at their previous job.

Small business owners like myself and my clients don’t do many meetings. We are gobsmacked by how often our larger corporate customers insist on meeting while also feeling it necessary to be joined by a dozen other people when only one or two would be sufficient. Why block an entire hour to meet on a project when no more than 15 minutes would suffice? Why insist on holding meetings at all, when a simple email would get the job done?

Small business owners like myself know that every second spent in a meeting is taking away from getting product out the door or closing that next sale. We don’t want people working for us that meet. We want people that do. Meeting Whisperers are not welcome.

So next time you consider scheduling a meeting at 2.36pm, how about not scheduling it at all? Don’t you have better, more profitable things to do instead? That’s what most small business owners would tell you. If you’re an unemployed Meeting Whisperer looking to work for a small business owner, I hope you understand this.

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