“This is an important meeting today,” said Mike. “As you know, we’ve heard that the home office is changing the way commissions are calculated.”
“Does that mean I make more or less?” asked Greg from the side of the room.
Mike stared at Greg without speaking for a moment. He needed to get the annoyance he felt under control. All of the other salespeople had shaped up during meetings. Except Greg.
“Greg . . . I have no idea. Please don’t interrupt me again. There is a lot to cover, and everyone in this room has to decide on one of two commission plans.”
“Take it easy, Mike. Just trying to lighten the mood up a bit.”
“Fine. As I was saying . . . “ Mike began describing the first commission plan in detail. After 10 minutes, a beeper went off.
“Mike, I swear I didn’t plan this,” said Greg, looking at the beeper on his belt.
“I’m sure,” was all that Mike managed to say.
“Looks like I’ve got to call O’Donnell,” said Greg getting up to leave.
“Where are you going?” asked Mike.
“O’Donnell told me that his board was meeting this morning to decide on that huge proposal I gave him. He said he’d beep me if it was running into trouble.”
“So, call him back later.”
“Mike, I’ve got seven months into this one. For all you know, it could be a stupid little question that has to be answered. I’ll just be gone for a minute.”
“Go,” said Mike. “You’ve got one minute.”
Five minutes later, still without Greg reappearing, Mike went on with the meeting. Unfortunately, he had to spend 10 minutes he didn’t have re-explaining the first commission plan.
Twenty-five minutes later Greg reappeared and once more interrupted Mike. “Sorry it took so long. I think this one’s a done deal. What happened here?”
It took 10 minutes to recap what had gone on. Unfortunately, by then, the meeting time was used up.
Mike did not cover all of the material he had planned on. Either it would be pushed to the next meeting or dropped. And O’Donnell still hadn’t bought.
Almost without exception, the moment a person “has to” leave the meeting, he misses crucial information. The chairperson can either let him go or forbid him to leave.
If the person leaves, this raises two additional situations. First, the person misses the information that is conveyed and any ensuing discussion. It is impossible to convey all that information to that person at a later date. It is also difficult to explain the reasoning behind any decisions that were made. Therefore the “missing person” views the decisions as arbitrary. “I didn’t get my viewpoint heard, and had they heard my viewpoint, the decision would have been different.” The result is a person who may or may not follow through. The purpose of the meeting, for this person, has not been met.
The second problem is what does the group leader do when the person comes back? It always takes longer than a minute. He has two choices. He can continue and ignore his return. He can backpedal and bring him up-to-date. If he backpedals, he wastes everyone else’s time. If he ignores him, the person almost always asks, “What did I miss?” So he backpedals anyway. And wastes time.
Consider, for a moment, the perception of others if you allow the person to leave and then on his return, backpedal. They have all just shut off their brains while you recap. Their attention to task is gone. You now have to refocus them all over again.
All this because he’d only be gone for a minute.
The solution is simple and requires the meeting leader to convey, prior to the meeting, his absolute commitment that no interruptions will be tolerated unless the building is on fire. This is not a popular stand to take if you have tolerated interruptions in the past. In your favor is that the people who will want to be excused for a minute are almost always the same ones at every meeting. You will only have to deal with this small group. The rest of the group will silently thank you—they like the interruptions less than you do.
Meetings are held to communicate and resolve issues vital to those attending. Why should anyone leave?
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