Monday, January 28, 2013

What to do when you're in over your a meeting

Inevitably, one of the following situations will happen to you, and it will happen to you more than once as in intern:

  1. You're sitting in a meeting next to your manager/boss with clients, consultants, or contractors, or;
  2. You have to attend a client/contractor/consultant meeting alone in place of your manager boss
...and in either situation, the conversation and questions are over your head. You have little to no idea what everyone is talking about. VAV boxes, vent pipes, overflow drains, head-in connections, washer/decontaminators, red lines, prep line, vault, penthouse, dock leveler, blah blah blah blah. These words are so new to you that they're practically meaningless, or (just as bad) you only have a scant idea of what these words and concepts are.  You remember talking about VAV boxes in undergrad...and you think you've heard your boss talk about the vault before, maybe last week, have no clear understanding of what's going on.  And you're fearful that if you ask right now in this moment, you'll look like an idiot.

What do you do? 

Depending on the type of meeting, there's a lot you can do. The first and best option no matter what is to pay attention, take notes, and listen. Look at people when they talk, write down a note about what they say (even if you don't understand the concept, write down the words), and nod appropriately.  Early in my career, I found myself in these meetings, confused as hell and bored as anything.  To combat the urge to fall asleep (which is what I feel like doing when I'm bored and overwhelmed), I began taking almost word-for-word notes in meetings.  Fast-forward 11 or so years later, and even now my colleagues and design team members want copies of my notes, and they trust my notes more than anyone else's because I write like a court reporter. My notes have saved my firm a few times because I had every detail of a conversation written in my notes, not just the resulting decision.

If the meeting is just you (and maybe your boss) and a few consultants, you have more room to reveal some ignorance: "Okay, so your concern is VAV box locations.  Give me an example of/show me on this ceiling plan where having a VAV box located would be problematic."  This allows the other person to really be listened to, and it allows you to learn. If you are pressed to make a decision thatyou feel you don't have the knowledge or authority to make, however, don't let anyone push you into a corner.  Your best response is, "I'd like to get back to the office and check the code/walk my boss through this/see if I can make this work in the floor plan, and I'll get back with you by end of day today/noon tomorrow/next week."

Being bored or confused in a meeting feels pretty sucky and it's inevitable, but showing that you're bored, lost, or disinterested is a big mistake. Resist the urge to do any of the following:

  • Look/stare at the floor
  • Doze off
  • Constantly check your phone/text
  • Fiddle with and pay attention to something else (a string on your coat, your pen, a piece of hair)
  • Just sit there, not taking notes or acting like you're listening/paying attention
People who are involved in the project and have some stake in it are the ones that attend the meeting and pay attention, even if they don't say much. Acting disengaged in the meeting tells the other parties that you don't have any stake in the project, so you're not that inportant, and any emails or requests you send can be ignored.

No comments:

Post a Comment