Ah, Meetings

I am very tired, it’s been a hellish week; but, something that happened last week remains with me, so I might as well try to purge it through writing, as I have been itching to do. I am sure I wrote about similar experiences before, but here it goes again.

I am very impatient and the people who speak slowly drive me absolutely nuts. I have a colleague whom I love dearly, and I would probably hang out more with her if her slow talking weren’t so excruciating to me. I hate it when a person takes 30 seconds to complete a sentence whose conclusion I saw coming in second No. 2. I often finish the sentences of slow talkers, in the hopeless attempt that they would get to the point while we are still young. Gaaaaah! My response is visceral and hard to reason away.

I was on a committee, not chairing it, joined by two colleagues. This small committee then reports back to a larger, super-committee if you will, with the findings. The meeting went way overtime because the chair, a painfully meticulous and slow-speaking individual, honestly spent considerably more time on certain aspects of the problem than reasonable, just because the rules say so. I appreciate that sometimes it’s important to dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, but there are situations where common sense is perfectly acceptable to apply and where we should think why the rules were created in the first place, rather than follow the rules to the letter in a situation to which they clearly don’t apply. For example, let’s say the bylaws say that in order to work at a hair salon you have to have this many years of training at a beauty school, as evidenced by certificates; what we did was the equivalent of discussing ad nauseam why the certificates of a candidate are not what we expected them to be for a hairstyling position, which is really pointless because the job description does not involve cutting hair at all, but rather working at the reception, answering the phone, and sweeping floors.

Even though I had a hard time waiting for the committee chair to express himself while going over the many, MANY, quite unnecessary details, I think the small-committee meeting went well overall. But in the larger meeting I think I might have ended up getting on some people’s nerves. First, there are a number of prim-and-proper slow speakers on the large super-committee and in my university in general; that just seems to be the way and is related to the regional culture (faculty native to the region are very measured in their demeanor and eloquent and speak sloooooowly and drive me absolutely bonkers — SPITITOUTSPITITOUTSPITITOUTALREADY!!!) During the (again) excruciatingly long meeting of the super-committee, I had a harder time restraining my impatience and I ended up cutting in a few times into the slow-speaker’s monologue to clarify, correct, disagree, and generally be a douche (side-effect) but mostly in order to move things along. I don’t think I was coming across as very nice in those meeting, and being that I am female and have been socialized to please, it bothers me that I make people uncomfortable or that they don’t like me; on the other hand, I am felling bored and generally wanting to just burst out of my skin. I seem to have come across as a buldozer of sorts, never a good metaphor for a woman. The thing is, I know I should be quiet and let the meeting run its course and not interfere, but I just cannot stop myself. It’s physically unpleasant sitting there, listening to the slow-paced bloviating; I just want to fast-forward these people, make them get to the point already. Some people really like to listen to themselves, but I just cannot be a willing participant for very long, as I can hear my hair graying, my butt expanding, and my face wrinkling while they are laboring over that perfect spoken sentence, and then another, and another…

As the friend from above said, I don’t have the personality for any kind of administration. I am probably not liked in that committee — or many other places, for that matter, which don’t recognize that I am really a force for good: annoying colleagues with incisive comments and fighting collective time-wasting since 2004.

Being liked mattered more when I was younger. I was also able to tolerate people’s narcissism, disrespect, and generally wasting my time better. With age, I am turning into a curmudgeon. Ah, the little inevitabilities of aging.

But perhaps that’s another aspect of the impostor syndrome: I would like to be respected, liked, and listened to, but it seems the first two aren’t happening. So I at least try to not be bored quite as much.

35 comments

  1. Separated at birth…

    I try not to do the sentence-finishing, interrupting thing, but it’s really difficult. I have a colleague who not only speaks slowly but also gives excruciatingly detailed examples to illustrate every point, and then repeats the point, then gives another, slightly different painfully detailed example. With him, I have put a boundary on that which I am willing to tolerate: at the end of the first example, if he goes back to the point, I jump in and say that his point was clear. I try to do it with humor but I’m sure that to those who are not used to my colleague I come across as a bulldozer.

    Slow and detailed speakers who focus on minutiae are the main reason I avoid committees that meet and that when I chair committees as much as possible of the discussion is done by email.

  2. Just bring other work with you to do when this happens. Remember that you would like to be treated with respect, and so do others. You wouldn’t want to be talked over, interrupted, or otherwise treated rudely.

    The problem is not with these other people the problem is yours. You are the one feeling irritated by something that they probably cannot help or change. You could have been born a slow speaker – or gay, or black, or female, or handicapped, or any other number of other things that you cannot help but that irritates other people.

    Find a way to get over your irritation and let them be.

  3. I have tried the solution of bringing other work and then I noticed another colleague doing the same thing and to me it seemed ruder than interrupting – it shows a complete lack of engagement in the process.

  4. In these particular meetings, there are relatively few of us, sitting around the table and looking at each other; electronics and phones are specifically forbidden. We are all supposed to be engaged the whole time. But I have brought stuff to do to larger meetings, such as department faculty meetings; however, I agree with BBBSchrewHarpy that doing other stuff while in meetings is hardly a sign of respect.

    fionapd8, somehow I don’t think that someone being gay or black would result in me having to spend way longer in meetings than necessary because they cannot get to the effing point. I don’t think that being a minutiae-driven slow-speaking bloviator is an inherent, immutable characteristic.

    But it’s always funny how whenever a woman is irritated by anything, sooner or later (usually sooner) someone will come to tell her to just suck it up because she has no business being irritated.

  5. My comment has to do with the fact that I don’t think these people can really change. Some people just do not think quickly or talk quickly.

    I also know people who ARE irritated with others because they are black or gay, because they just HATE that. They don’t want to be in the same room with them because they are black or gay. They don’t want to serve on committees with them and they treat them horribly when they try to talk or add their thoughts to problems.

    My argument is that these people who so irritate you probably are not doing it on purpose.

    What I have done in these situations is bring paper and act like I’m taking notes, when in fact I may be making lists or finding other ways to kindly get through a meeting that to me, need not be this long. I agree that you can’t really bring work that visibly looks like you are disengaged. But your choice seems to be to treat them incredibly rude, or to somehow come to terms with your irritation. I think it is kinder to others to do the latter.

  6. Much empathy here – I have been reprimanded repeatedly for this (and I know male colleagues who behave similarly aren’t reprimanded, but that’s only part of the issue).

    Fionapd8, whilst I agree people can’t help talking at different speeds (though I consider this mostly to be a matter of raising rather than of birth-destiny since speech habits are mostly acquired culturally, therefore the comparisons you chose seem a little off the point), I have little problem being interrupted when a small group are talking their way to a solution – because I see this working effectively and quickly in mostly female scientist groups, where people care about a solution not about ego. Sure, I work continually on my own desire to finish the damn talking already, and to listen respectfully rather than second-guessing or working out my reply, but I also feel that sometimes it’s absolutely legitimate to say something along the lines of “so we have two options here to present, A and B. Anyone got an option C?” and then, yes, interrupt (as politely and nicely and positively as possible) the person who wants to restate option A again in detail.

    And I DO WISH colleagues who are very slow to make points would ALSO work on improving their ability to be part of meetings – just because you speak slowly doesn’t guarantee you the right to three times the air time of anyone else, and if you are the ten-minutes-to-make-the-point type, practice getting there quicker – I do not CARE about your effing football anecdote or your six examples from the last place you worked or your wordy prologue about how you’re sure your point isn’t very good, and all those things make it really hard for me to actually hear what your point is, because my energy is increasingly focused inwards on “Must…. Not…. ” kind of thoughts, or wondering why anyone would think football was relevant to hairdressing, or daydreaming…

    One thing that has helped me is to keep my fingers busy – I used to be a doodler, or take near-verbatim notes, but both felt like essentially time-wasting and since they kept me from looking at the person also felt rude at times. I now have permission to take simple hand-crafts into all internal meetings (I either knit or crochet, and have specific office-projects which need no pattern and use a single ball of yarn, so minimal attention needed from me) and find it actually really helpful – I can look up, drop it immediately if I DO need my hands for something else or my full attention is needed, but it keeps the squirrelly impatient part of me in check. It IS considered a bit ‘girly’ but it’s a neutral/positive gender label rather than the ‘aggressive b*tch’ labels that my natural fast-talking, collective-vocalising style of working gets, and my boss seems to appreciate it as visible evidence that I am trying to “address my faults”, so it’s probably overall not harmful – and I’m quite sure it helps my blood-pressure and temper! It’s much easier to come out of a meeting now thinking “oh well, another 6 inches of whatever made, at least” rather than “THAT WAS AN HOUR OF MY LIFE I WILL NEVER GET BACK”. The office heating is erratic, so right now I’m working on a mile-a-minute afghan which I will be able to wear in my office…

  7. That actually makes more sense.

    I do disagree with you that the people who are bloviating bear no responsibility. There are skills we all have to learn that don’t come naturally to us. Some people are terrified of speaking up but realize that to have their ideas heard (rather than stolen) they have to do just that – not blame the room for failing to read their minds. Conversely, people who are long-winded can be expected to show consideration for their colleagues and edit themselves.

  8. My post was in response to fionapd8’s, not JaneB’s.

    Another thing: when I form committees this consideration is the most important factor in its composition. My committees are full of quick or concise speakers, or people who may speak slowly but pipe up only when they have something very important to contribute and otherwise just nod or give a short statement of assent or dissent. Occasionally for political reasons I can’t avoid a bloviator but one of my colleagues from another institution, who is equally intolerant in this regard, and I take turns running interference around the bloviation.

  9. “I often finish the sentences of slow talkers, in the hopeless attempt that they would get to the point while we are still young. Gaaaaah! My response is visceral and hard to reason away.”

    This is abusive behavior, and you really should figure out how to exercise some self control so as not to abuse your colleagues.

  10. *sigh*

    Obviously, having posted this will come to no good.

    It’s amazing how nearly any irritation that I write about results in calls to fix myself so I am not irritated. No, I will not. I am fine, thankyouverymuch.

  11. I’m also totally with you. One thing I find though is that if I interrup the slow-speaking people in meeting, they often start their argument from the beginning, making the whole thing even more drawn out. So lately I figured a way of convincing myself how to not say anything (and it’s rather crazy, but maybe that’s why it works): a few months ago there was a meme on twitter with a Polish proverb, an idiom for “not my problem, which says “not my circus, not my monkeys”. So when I am bursting with wanting to say something, I start repeating this to myself. Or imagining the people around me as monkeys in a circus. Or even doodling monkeys. Somehow it works to make me keep my mouth shut.

  12. AnonP “Not my circus, not my monkeys” will be my mantra during the bi-weekly very badly run meeting I am obliged to attend. It’s a meeting with no agenda, no time limit (though I usually arrange another appointment an hour after the start), and a dithering chair who can’t make decisions or bring a group to order. It’s not a meeting where I have to worry too much about being polite so I usually bring my laptop but it’s excruciating nonetheless.

  13. No one’s telling you not to be irritated. Too slow and too fast speakers–relative to my own personal preferences–irritate me as well. There’s a George Carlin bit on too slow and too fast drivers that is apropros.

    But it is abusive behavior to interrupt and finish other people’s sentences because they speak slower than you prefer, especially “often”, as you yourself asserted. How would you feel if people often interrupted you to tell you to speak more slowly, because you speak more rapidly than they prefer?

  14. Haha, hahaha!! I am exactly the same, except I don’t care at all whether people like me, as long as they hurry the f$%k up and finish talking 🙂 Maybe they cannot change their slow-talking ways, but I cannot help my impatient ways either. I would love to be on a committee with you. or other impatient, interrupting bulldozers who want to get things done and get on with life.

  15. How would you feel if people often interrupted you to tell you to speak more slowly,

    I am a woman; people interrupt me and talk over me ALL THE FREAKIN’ TIME; it’s a rule, rather than an exception. Perhaps that’s why I learned not to drone on in meetings where I am actually able to get a word in edgewise.

    In one of the meetings I described above, the smaller one, an old dude interrupted me so often I lost count. As usual, I was the only woman, and also the youngest of them all. There was one point I tried to start probably 5 times, and the dude kept just talking all over me. Each time I would open my mouth, I could not go past three or four words, without him talking right over me like I am not there. The only way I finally managed to make my point was to continue talking over him after he had interrupted me; it was was weird for a few seconds, with both of us talking at the same time, until he finally shut up so I was able to complete my two sentences.

    Some people just assume they have the right to all the airtime they want along with a captive audience, because politeness. Well, no, they don’t.

  16. So it totally sucks and is wrong when people interrupt you to talk over you and not let you finish what you are saying because they want to hear themselves talk instead (I agree this is horrible, rude, and frequently misogynistic), but it’s totally ok for you to interrupt people and talk over them and not let them finish their own sentences because they speak too slowly?

  17. You asked if I knew what it’s like to be interrupted, and I said I did, very much so.

    However, what you say is a false equivalence: it’s not the same being interrupted because someone doesn’t want or care to have you say anything, versus being interrupted because you have had plenty of air time, yet still cannot get to the damn point.

  18. I want to be on the committee with people who get to the point.

    I’m struggling with some of this right now; love a few colleagues, but the 1 hr meeting shouldn’t become a 2-hr meeting with nothing more accomplished. Small talk and agreeing with each other are important for bonding, like grooming rituals. But there are only so many hours in a week

  19. It bugs me too when people talk too slowly. The only silver lining is that I sometimes zone out, then come back, and realize I didn’t miss anything they were saying.

  20. I was recently in a meeting that got, if not to the damn point, at least closer to the point than usual.

    The trick is that most of the administrators were out of town that day.

  21. I am 100% with you on this one.

    Most of the time, the issue is that I am just ready to move on with the conversation. I agree or don’t, getting another hour of detail will change nothing. But, sometimes a speaker’s inability to be concise comes across as arrogant (his opinion is more important than our time) or belittling (he obvious needs to explain the minutiae so we can understand).

  22. Schedule another meeting (does not have to be real) say 1-2 hours after start of the first. 15 minutes before the second meeting stand up and say, well, sorry I have to be going to my other meeting. My vote on this would be X. Bye

  23. One tactic I’ve tried with slow speakers in meetings is to try and finish their sentences quickly. They’ll either get frustrated to the point of not speaking up unless they have their statement ready-to-go or they’ll just stop. I know I’m kind of being an ass, but the slow speaking is infuriating. We only have so much time on this Earth, can we please not waste it?

  24. I am quick and impatient but it really is rude to interrupt people and finish their sentences. It’s something I try to curb, though it’s ahrd.

  25. Just got off a 90 minute conference call. One of the guys who won’t shut the fuck up is under-employed and involved in our activity as a volunteer gig, so he has lots of time. The other talker is one of those weird people who doesn’t need more than a couple hours of sleep, so he can work a 20 hour day and still be energized, so he doesn’t feel like his time is ever wasted because he has way more time than the rest of us.

    I muted my phone and kept saying “Just shut the fuck up already.”

  26. And now I’m about to go to a meeting where I (chair of a committee handling a certain matter) and my department chair will meet with an administrator, and be joined by our department’s backseat driver. I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “It doesn’t really matter what the 3 of us decide, because Dr. Backseat Driver is the ultimate decider.”

  27. J!@3131 F@$@# you know what really sucks? When the long-winded dOOD is a high level administrator and he’s saying things that aren’t true or that you already know and then he yells at you repeatedly for interrupting him when you’re trying to correct him on point 1 or agree with him on point 2 (which you already made earlier in the meeting and provided documentation of to go with the meeting, but because you’re female you must not have actually said and heaven forbid anybody actually look at documentation) because you think the damn pause is actually a pause when no, it’s just him about to talk forever some more. And then he yells at you for not letting him get a word in edgewise when it’s actually been him talking for 9/10 of the time.

    That’s the kind of person who takes @#$#@ing forever. Because they get to be assholes about taking up all the airspace and wasting everybody’s time. Nobody ever tells them not to.

    (We also have a valued faculty member who talks slowly, but everybody shuts up and listens when he talks in faculty meetings because what he says always has value and he doesn’t speak up very often. It’s probably not a coincidence that he’s an underrepresented minority and not a tall white guy.)

    Not that I had a one hour meeting today that could have been @#$#@ing 15 min and could have been done without me being yelled at.

  28. I sympathize – it’s taken me years to suppress the overwhelming urge to finish people’s sentences. I also have to force myself to speak slowly enough for most people to understand me. I just bring a notepad and take “notes”, i.e., write my to-do list or ideas for my next grant, otherwise I might have to run screaming around the room tearing out my hair. One of my senior colleagues is amazing at running meetings. He provides a line-item agenda with time assigned for each item (usually 5 minutes). If someone is still talking after 5 min, he asks for a wrap up or a motion to table the discussion until next time. Of course this doesn’t work if you’re not running the meeting….in which case, I’m going to try Eli Rabett’s suggestion for next time.

  29. In a general sense, I am really easily irritated. It’s just my nature, as far as I can tell. I can’t control the level of annoyance I feel at people around me, but I can control how I act. What (sometimes) works for me is to remind myself that just because I am annoyed by something someone around me is doing, that doesn’t actually mean that the thing that person is doing is Wrong and/or Bad. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate or possible for me to regulate that person’s behavior.

    Put another way, my behavioral expectations of myself are both more important to me and more enforceable by me than my behavioral expectations of other people. And I consider it my obligation to myself to try not to act like a jerk even when I feel annoyed and angry.

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