could have been an email

What To Do In a Meeting That Could Have Been an Email

A SurveyMonkey poll showed that 42% of employees sometimes end up thinking, “this meeting really could have been an email,” – and 32% think it most or all of the time. So what do you do if you find yourself trapped in a meeting that should have been an email? Can you turn the situation into a productive one, or is the meeting a lost cause?

Meetings vs. emails

Not every meeting could be an email, but there are certainly moments when meetings are filled with simple requests or statements that can be covered in a more informal format. Here are a few ways to tell if you’re in an unnecessary or time-consuming meeting.

Things that go in a meeting

  • Opportunities for brainstorming
  • Topics that require discussion
  • Plans with a lot of moving parts
  • Networking and building relationships

Things that go in an email

  • Simple logistics
  • Check-ins
  • Information for large groups
  • No decision-making required

Unfortunately, you’ll find yourself in scenarios when a team leader, manager, or coworkers will schedule a meeting that covers a straightforward topic – and it’s not always for an ill-considered reason.

What causes an unnecessary meeting?

There are a few reasons someone might turn an email into a meeting. The meeting leader might want the opportunity to clarify the next steps on a task, even if communication on a project has been fluid, just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. While that might seem punctilious to some, it’s the hallmark of diligence to others. According to SurveyMonkey, 44% of meeting attendees leave meetings with clear action items – this means that meetings aren’t as much of a time-killer as one might think, even if the topic addressed was a simple one.

Another reason people might schedule an unnecessary meeting is that they might need a little social break throughout a day otherwise filled with solo work. Often, a meeting is the only social interaction a remote worker may get throughout their workday, and it’s important to remember that the social aspect of meetings isn’t as awful as popular culture might indicate. Only 17% of SurveyMonkey’s respondents “dread” daily meetings. An additional 55% say they feel completely neutral about meetings – meaning that a meeting could be swayed by how good or bad the social chemistry is.

How to act when this could have been an email

There’s nothing worse than a meeting that could have been an email, but you don’t have to tune out or shut down if you find yourself in one. Here are some step-by-step ways to turn your meeting into a productive experience.

1. Real-time feedback

First, you’ve got to set the stage for some real-time feedback. Collecting feedback in real-time to cater the meeting to attendees was a popular suggestion in the SurveyMonkey poll and might be popular in your next meeting. If you’re running the meeting, you could always include feedback and check-ins as the meeting progresses. If you’re attending but not leading, you can find ways to politely and reflectively interject feedback about staying on track or keeping the meeting brief.

If you’re concerned about backlash from the feedback you give during a check-in, remember that focus and brevity are key concerns of many meeting attendees. SurveyMonkey notes that 54% of respondents note that including an agenda is an easy way to improve meetings and 53% agree that keeping meetings short (under fifteen minutes) is another method to increase productivity. As long as you phrase your concerns reasonably, they’ll be received reasonably.

2. Speak up!

Next, now that you’ve set the stage for some feedback, you’ve got to speak up and let everyone know your frustrations. Though it might seem like you’re coming off strong by telling everyone that this meeting could have been an email, you’re more than likely picking up the energy that everyone else is putting down, especially if your team is sluggish, disinterested, or disengaged. If you’re sensing that’s how everyone else is feeling, you should say it for their sakes in addition to yourself.

Even if you’re the only person who feels like this meeting could have been an email, you must let your viewpoints be heard in a way that’s empathetic, understanding, and reflective of your needs. You could mention that you feel your contribution to this goal would be more substantial if you were working asynchronously, or you could ask if someone else might be able to clarify your role in the meeting better (if you’re having trouble figuring out why you’re asked to be there). If you address the situation empathetically and without frustration or aggression, you’ll be received with empathy as well.

3. Brainstorm

Lastly, one of the best ways to turn a meeting around is to use it as an opportunity to brainstorm. Once you’ve shared your thoughts and feelings about the nature of the meeting, come up with either a new way to think about the topic you’re discussing or a new way to think about the meeting itself. Even if the meeting topic isn’t the most fascinating, you can still explore the nuances of the discussion and find ways to expand upon it. Anything can be made more interesting if you use a little brainpower and consider new problems or roadblocks to solving. Brainstorming is low-stakes, fast-paced, and increases energy flow in a room when you feel a meeting falling flat.

You can also take the opportunity to brainstorm about how to lead meetings more effectively in the future. Create some ideas for your team charter about what qualifies as a meeting or an email, and outline some rules for the future so that everyone feels heard.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to show up to a meeting that should have been an email and mentally punch out. But by trying to turn things around for yourself and your team, you’ll show leadership, ingenuity, and passion for your workplace. If you create an opportunity to discuss, relate, and consider, everyone will leave the meeting feeling like they made a difference in your team’s meeting culture.

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