Have we just been doing meetings all wrong?

You won’t be very far into a typical working day before you hear someone bemoan the number of meetings they have to attend or how they can never get any real work done because of the back to back meetings filling their diary.

My colleague Paul has written lots of great posts about this unproductive meetings culture like this one from 2013, this one from last year or this one from last month.

Paul T meetings

I bet you’ve heard yourself say many of the things Paul has written in his blog…..I know I have.

  • Meetings are boring.
  • They are too long.
  • No one tells the truth.
  • They are all about winning (the argument).
  • The things that need to be said stay unsaid.
  • They are too long.
  • They never get any better.

But recently I’ve come across a different kind of meeting. It’s one that I actually look forward to being part of and one that if I’m unable to attend (as was the case on Sunday) leaves me feeling rather bereft.

It looks like this…..


No, I know…it doesn’t look terribly thrilling. I’ll be honest it looks like a small, rather austere room with a few elderly people in; most of whom appear to be asleep. Well you’d be mostly right. Though they’re not asleep…just sitting quietly with their eyes closed. They are all very ‘in the room’ though. They sit and listen…and listen…and then sometimes (not every week) someone feels compelled to stand up and say something; something that this listening together has somehow suggested to them. Last time I went someone stood and read a short passage by the Quaker writer Caroline E Stephen, written in 1908. This is part of it:

And when the meeting, whether silent or not, is awake, and looking upwards, there is much more in it than this. In the united stillness of a truly ‘gathered’ meeting there is a power known only by experience, and mysterious even when most familiar.

The silence of a meeting is not empty or void. It is full of energy and life. Could one begin to record this silence? Well of course I couldn’t resist having a go. So here is the sound of silence…well just under a minute’s worth….from earlier this year.

Almost exactly a year ago I had a major operation on my brain. I didn’t feel ill before the operation and I feel fine now. But sitting in a dingy room at the hospital with a doctor listing all the awful things that might happen as a result of the operation did make me think a little more about my own mortality and the things in life that perhaps I took for granted. When I got home I decided it was time I went and investigated the Friends of Ettington properly. I’ve been going regularly ever since. It’s such a different kind of meeting to the ones Paul writes about and curiously everyone who attends seems to get far more out of it…even if they never speak…and never try to assert their ideas or opinions over those of others.

Today is World Day of Listening. If you’ve never heard of it why not have a look around the fascinating website here. Or better still why not find your nearest Friends Meeting House and go and do some listening of your own? If you know your postcode you’ll be able to search here.

Good luck.

One response to “Have we just been doing meetings all wrong?

  1. Pingback: The Problem With Finding Answers – Paul Taylor·

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