Meeting Anti-Patterns


I am following Scott Hanselman, and I am a regular listener of his Hanselminutes podcast. In one of the latest episodes, Scott talks with Sarah Cooper, the best selling author, comedian, writer, speaker and general trash-talker. Her book “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings” (irony) is fantastic, and in this blog post, you’ll find my top 10 meeting anti-patterns.

Irony ahead

1. Whiteboard tactic

Getting up and drawing an obscure Venn diagram or a single curve is a great way to appear intelligent. It doesn’t matter if your chart is wildly inaccurate; in fact, the more inaccurate, the better. Now engage your colleagues and let them fight about what labels should be there. You can sit and relax now, everyone will remember you as the master facilitator.

2. Encourage everyone to “take a step back”

There comes a point in most meetings where everyone is chiming in, except you. This is a great point to go, “Guys, guys, guys, can we take a step back here?” Everyone will turn their heads toward you, amazed at your ability to silence the fray. Follow it up with a quick, “What problem are we really trying to solve?” and, boom! You’ve bought yourself another hour of looking smart.

3. Encourage to explain something to everyone

If someone uses a term that you don’t understand, stop the person and say, “I think some people might not know what that is, could you explain if for them?”. Now you look like you care about everyone and you make sure everybody is on the same page.

4. Say “that’s obvious” at things that aren’t obvious

Don’t get surprised easily. By stating “pretty obvious” you inform everyone that you have more experience than anyone else in the room.

5. Ask “will it scale”

It’s important to find out whether things will scale no matter what it is you’re discussing. No one even really knows what that means.

True leaders need to think BIG, look beyond current solutions, and you’ve just shown your intelligence and aspirations.

6. Focus changer

If you’ve spent the last 15 minutes playing Candy Crush and totally lost the topic, stand up, draw a triangle and an arrow pointing to it. Ask, “Are we focusing on the right things?” Nothing makes you seem more intelligent than when you question the Status Quo.

7. Ways to get to YES

Getting your colleagues to agree with everything you say is a great way to appear intelligent. And the best way to do that is to say something they really can’t disagree with. Some great statements are:

  • It is what it is
  • We need to be smart about this
  • We should focus on the priorities
  • We have to choose the right choices
  • Let’s deal only in facts and opinions.

Every great negotiator tries to get YES as fast as possible, and your colleagues might even think you attended FBI hostage negotiation training.

8. Encourage data-driven decisions

Stop the conversation so you can pull up the data, and remind everyone we should be making data-driven decisions. Ask “Can I trust this data?”. Question all data rigorously and say things like “There is not enough evidence in data here”. When someone brings more data, ask for less by saying “We need a more aggregated view”. You will be seen as a highly intelligent strategist who is not making decisions based purely on emotions.

9. Interacting with senior executives

If a director or other higher-up makes a comment, immediately stop to write it down. Say, “Great point, Sheila, let me just make a note of that,” being sure to call her by her first name (or a nickname) so everyone knows you guys are pals. Make your colleagues think that you have a very close relationship with the CEO by bringing up how you think she would respond to an idea.

By associating yourself so closely with the upper management, people will start to think of you as some CEO-in-training.

10. Devil’s advocate

When people seem to like an idea, that’s a good time play devil’s advocate. Use counterarguments (the more ridiculous, the better) to diminish the solution. Your colleagues will see you’re considering the problem more deeply than anyone else and be impressed with your ability to investigate all scenarios.

11. Sent from my phone

Use a “sent from my phone” signature, even when you’re not sending from your phone. This makes you look like you’re always busy and on the go and also gets you out of proofreading.

And finally, when someone asks, “What are you most excited about in the coming quarter?” say, “Innovation.”

These are the patterns I liked most. “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings” by Sarah Cooper describes 90+ other great tips to use (avoid) in your meeting.

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.