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How to Deal with Boring Meetings


When was the last time that you bailed-out of a boring meeting?

In-person meetings are tougher to bail-out on because everyone in the room will watch you leave. They'll be looking for a reason. They'll be criticizing your commitment.

In a virtual meeting, it's easier. Especially if there are dozens of people in the meeting. You wouldn't think twice about leaving a meeting of a hundred people that turned out to be a droning infomercial for someone's product or service.

I don't like the choice to bail-out, but it's not the worst choice. It's just a choice. 

Finding myself in a boring meeting I gave it some thought and drew this chart. These aren't the only choices for reacting to a boring meeting, but they do give us a range of options.



Partical Escape


image: doug smith


My first choice is to influence the meeting. Make it better. Help it get back on track. Even when we aren't in charge or leading the meeting we can influence the process and then the outcomes. One of my former associates, Ed Anzalone, called this "leading from the back of the room." The whole purpose is to help facilitate success, not to take over.

Things we can do to influence a meeting include:

  • Asking questions to clarify and explore
  • Offering helpful suggestions, especially around process
  • Exploring the thoughts and feelings of others in the room
  • Stepping in to intervene when someone is hopelessly struggling
We can't always influence the meeting, though. Influencing is a great choice when:
  • The group is small (fewer than twenty people)
  • You already enjoy rapport and some form of relationship with the people in the meeting
  • The stakes are high and you can't afford a bad meeting and cannot leave


Another choice is to simply leave the meeting, to escape. Let's face it, there are some meetings where we neither provide or gain any value. To stay means to waste our time. Who wants to do that?

We shouldn't jump to the escape choice, but it might make sense if:

  • The group is large (more than twenty people)
  • Your attendance has been offered as optional
  • The stakes are very low
  • You have something much higher priority that you should be doing

Partial Escape

In virtual meetings, and maybe even in face-to-face meetings, this is the most common tactic that people pull. If you're leading the meeting it is no fun to watch. If you're stuck in a deadly boring meeting though it might be unavoidable.

Partial escape is staying in the meeting but multi-tasking. While others drone on, you remain but tune them out enough to tune something else in. Typically, people will email, prepare for other tasks, and even scroll through social medial. It's rude but common.

Be careful about selecting this choice unless:

  • You are not really needed in the meeting
  • The outcome of the meeting is already certain
  • You can multi-task and escape detection
On a positive note, if you are multi-tasking by doodling instead of scrolling -- by drawing pictures and charts to amuse yourself, you might actually retain more about the meeting than someone who simply listens.


Truly the last choice for reacting to a boring meeting is to disrupt it. I don't recommend that you do this, but it is worth being prepared for when others do. Here's what you might observe when someone is intentionally disrupting a meeting:

  • Complaining
  • Creating drama
  • Conflict
Most people have a story, maybe many stories, about disrupted meetings. Some have even broken out into fights. Many have occurred in what were once serene school board and local government meetings. Decorum is lost, manners disappear, tempers flair.

A skillful facilitator can get the meeting back on track, but if the meeting is already out of control, here are some suggestions:

  • Take a break -- maybe people are tired
  • Hydrate -- maybe people are thirsty
  • Eat something -- your body is a built-in chemistry set and if the chemicals are wack, watch out
  • Stand up -- sure, this gets attention sometimes but that could be a good thing when you want to level up to influencing the meeting and it's also a great way to release your own tension.

What to do?

That is always completely up to you. As always, pro-active beats reactive so if you can influence the meeting BEFORE it begins that will position you well to influence when necessary, which is the high performance pick.

Sometimes you can even un-invite yourself if you can tell that the meeting is low on your list of desirable priorities. 

And whatever you choose, I'd advocate for maintaining respect. No one wants a jerk in a meeting.

-- doug smith


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