Sometimes you shouldn’t go to the meeting…

McCarthy Meeting Room A
McCarthy Meeting Room A (Photo credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary)

Tomorrow, I am probably going to cancel a meeting which I have been trying to get for the last five months (or seven months, depending on how you count it).

Why would I do that?

I don’t think the people with whom I have scheduled the meeting are going to be very happy about that, or that they will understand the reasons – at least not now.

Here’s the problem: Although the meeting is with two of the people who I have been trying to meet, it became clear from the lead-up to the meeting that we were not going into it with similar goals, much common ground, or any promise of commitment.

The last thing I want to do is go to a meeting where I am planning to do useful work and the other attendees are planning to simply reiterate information that has already been discussed many times. I made that mistake in November, while working with the same organization. It took a lot of work to dig myself out of the unhelpful path which I walked down in the process.

Now, what to do. Well, I always think that it never makes much sense to ask the same person the same question more than once. It is exceedingly rare for most people to change their mind about something. Asking repeatedly just leads to frustration and conflict. But then what can you do when there is disagreement? (Assuming you have given the issue enough quiet thought so that you are pretty sure you want or should go ahead with this.)

One thing you can try is to suggest your own solution. I did that with this meeting I’ve been telling you about. Since I had concerns early on about the common ground we did or did not have, I proposed an agenda for the meeting. My proposal was quietly ignored so I asked for confirmation on the agenda. That helped, since in response I got a brief communication which seemed to indicate we didn’t have much common ground. That solved two problems – it gave me enough information so that I could try to avoid a potentially negatively unproductive meeting, and it gave me a conversation point with which to try to deepen our communication prior to meeting. I tried to follow-up, but people being busy as they are, after several attempts it has seemed clear we won’t get this worked out prior to the scheduled meeting.

Keep in mind – that doesn’t mean the whole thing is a bust. Getting a meeting scheduled showed a level of commitment which did not exist before, and that’s important when you are working on creating long-term change in the mindset of an organization. I plan to try reaching the meeting folks tomorrow, and if I cannot then cancel the meeting and request a reschedule.

I don’t expect it to be easy to redirect the conversation at this point. The reasons for my canceling (if it comes to that) will probably be misunderstood.

But on the other hand, would any reasonable and professional person actually expect me to walk into a meeting if it seemed clear there was no chance of it being a useful meeting? Maybe some people could walk in there and turn that meeting around. I feel better knowing that I am meeting with people who don’t need to be turned around. We’ll see how this goes. Maybe next time I will realize that I’ve taken the wrong path with this one, but for now I will try suggesting my own solution of rescheduling the meeting two weeks out, to give us time to work more on finding common ground.