You're 20 minutes into a meeting and realize the discussion doesn't matter to you. You're anxious to get back to work, but you feel stuck. What's worse, you found yourself in this same situation yesterday. Why does this keep happening?

At a recent workshop, an attendee said "I show up to meetings because sometimes they discuss my project. Usually they don't, so I multitask. I know that's rude because I'm not engaged. Then I wonder if I should leave, but I know that would be rude, too. Which is worse: tuning out or walking out?"

I get questions like this all the time from people caught in a meeting FOMO vortex. FOMO: the Fear Of Missing Out.

It's not just employees; managers struggle too. In a workshop for team leaders, one confessed: "I know extra people make meetings harder, but I invite everybody so no one will feel left out."

Both employees and managers see the same problem but feel powerless to change it. The risk of upsetting people is too great. Everyone is helplessly trapped by the meeting FOMO vortex. 

If that's you, follow this four-step plan to escape:

1. Raise awareness.

Sometimes we don't raise a concern because we worry others won't agree. Let me assure you, others on your team see this problem too. 

Eckhart Tolle, bestselling author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, once famously said, "Awareness is the greatest agent for change." By raising the topic, you increase awareness for everyone and create the opportunity for solutions. When you share your experience with your team, you create an opening for the discussion.

For example, you might say:

"I'm finding myself in meetings where I don't have much to add, and it's putting stress on my ability to get work done on time. I want to be involved when I'm needed, but I'm having trouble balancing that with my task list. I'm wondering if anyone else is struggling with this?" 

2. Include the meeting purpose and desired outcomes on the calendar.

People get meeting FOMO because they don't know what to expect in advance. "What if they need me?" they worry. "What if they decide to change my project but no one tells me about it?"

What if instead of guessing, everyone knew what a meeting was going to cover in advance?

The obvious solution: Write what the meeting is about in the calendar invitation. At a minimum, include why you're meeting (the purpose) and the desired outcomes (e.g., a decision, updated project dates, etc.). 

3. Publish meeting notes.

Meeting notes tell people what happened in a meeting. When you share meeting notes, people no longer have to attend every meeting in real-time. They can read the notes instead. 

Bonus: if the notes show that what happened matches what the calendar said would happen, you get a trust boost.

4. Agree on a polite way to leave a meeting.

When someone walks out, it can rattle everyone else. Are they angry? Sick? Leaving isn't the issue; making other people worry is the issue. 

Following the first three steps will prevent most FOMO-problems, but not all. 

That's why you need an explicit agreement stating it's okay to leave a meeting. Then, when someone politely excuses themselves, the rest of the team will understand. And who knows? Their example may help free another hapless vortex victim.

Published on: Nov 28, 2018