Steven Nguyen of Workplace Psychology had an interesting post a while back, "Meetings, Meetings and More Meetings." Nguyen wrote:
I have always been fascinated by why organizations and supervisors insist on continuing the maddening idea of having so many meetings. I have seen places where they seem to have a meeting just to talk about planning for the next meeting. I call it a “meeting about another meeting.”
Nguyen noted a study which concluded that "more meetings were associated with increased feelings of fatigue and workload."
That conclusion makes sense to me. Meetings can be enjoyable, they can even be great. But, they require capital on the part of those who attend them. To begin with, meetings have to be scheduled, prepared for, possibly rescheduled and summarized afterward. And then there are the meetings themselves which are complicated not only by the exchange of information and ideas which they are designed to accomplish, but also by personal dynamics, posturing, emotional variables, and differing levels of interest and involvement. I wonder if more meetings are associated with more workplace lawsuits. After all, if people are stuck in a room together while they feel fatigued and overworked, it seems more likely that they will irk one another than if they have more physical and psychological distance. It seems also more likely that their biases will come out in a face-to-face exchange than they would in a written exchange. In a meeting, a person might continually be reminded of things about the other person which bias them in one direction or another, whereas a written exchange might lend itself to objectivity.
Efficiency vs Empathy
Whether you can't get enough meetings or can't avoid them enough, you are in good company.
Two Supreme Court justices have (fairly) recently spoken about a kind of ultimate meeting: oral argument. Justice Samuel Alito spoke about oral argument at the University of Alabama School of Law (which I was fortunate to hear) and has made similar remarks more recently. Alito has been quoted as saying, “Oral argument is a relatively small and, truth be told, a relatively unimportant part of what we do.” (May 2011, Law Day gathering in St. Louis). Alito was unimpressed with oral arguments in part because he rarely learned something new at them. All of the facts and arguments were already contained in the briefs and the record. Alito explained that people read a lot faster than they speak. Ordinary people read at a speed somewhere around 250-300 per minute (who knows how fast Supreme Court Justices read) and talk only around 150-200 words per minute . So the efficiency argument is in Alito's favor. That's part of what's behind the text message revolution. Talking takes longer, and there is the scheduling issue.
On the other hand, the written word alone can leave out an emotional component that some value more than others. Justice Sotomayor was credited with bringing empathy to the Court, and Sotomayor seems to put more stock in oral argument than Alito. The Atlantic reported that Sotomayor was:
willing to admit that oral arguments before the court -- even after she and colleagues have done substantial homework on an individual case -- are enormously influential in how she winds up in voting.
So there you have two brilliant minds who seem to place different value on meetings. Even if you don't like meetings, there really isn't a promotion that will get you away from them, although if you are promoted high enough you get to sit stoically through them.
Whether you hate them or love them, if you'd like to improve improve them, check out Nguyen's tips on making meetings more effective.