You've just come into work. As you're getting set up for the day, a co-worker comes in and proceeds to walk out with your chair, without saying a word. No comments on why he needs it, or if and when he's going to bring it back. Just up and out.

How would you react?

That's how David Grady begins his hilarious six-minute TED Talk, "How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings," which has now been viewed over 1.5 million times. (You can view the talk below, or by clicking this link.) Grady's performance, in which he acts out every terrible conference call you've ever been on, begins at 2:38 in the video.

In the presentation, Grady asserts that attending a meeting without a clear purpose or agenda, and in which you are unsure of your role or contribution, allows others to steal your valuable time in the same way they would steal your seat. As Grady puts it, "When this highly unproductive session is over, you go back to your desk ... and you say, 'Boy, I wish I had those two hours back. Like I wish I had my chair back.'"

So who's at fault for this (not so) petty larceny? Logic dictates that the brunt of responsibility lies with the meeting proposer. But Grady places the primary blame on meeting attenders--those who choose to inflict themselves with what he describes as the global epidemic of MAS: mindless accept syndrome.

As he explains:

The primary symptom of mindless accept syndrome is just accepting a meeting invitation the minute it pops up in your calendar. It's an involuntary reflex--ding, click, bing--it's in your calendar: "Gotta go, I'm already late for a meeting."

So is MAS really a global epidemic? The original YouTube video depicting the world's worst conference call, which itself has collected over a million views (viewable here), received the following comments:

It's funny because it's true. Eerily, sadly, depressingly true. It made me laugh until I cried. And cried. And I cried some more.

My daily life until retirement or death *sigh*

Loved it! You forgot heavy breathing, wind from someone walking, a person picking up another call and hold music playing on the line, and a toilet flush thrown in for good measure.

So what's the solution? Grady affectionately refers to it as No MAS!

No MAS is based on two primary principles:

1. When you receive a meeting invitation that's missing desired information, click the "tentative" button.

2. Next, get in touch with the meeting proposer. Tell the proposer that you're very excited to support his or her work, ask about the goal of the meeting, and find out if (and how) you can be of help in achieving that goal.

Sound time-consuming? Maybe a little. But much better than the time you'll spend sitting in a meeting you shouldn't.

The idea is, if done often (and respectfully) enough, No MAS might just lead people to give a little more thought to their meeting invitations. Maybe they'll start including an agenda. Or send an email to give a status update instead of initiating a 12-person conference call.

And as Grady gracefully and succinctly concludes:

People just might start to change their behavior because you changed yours. And they just might bring your chair back, too.

No MAS! Who's with me?

How about you? What meeting mishaps and blunders have you experienced? Suggestions to improve? I'd love to read them in the comments section below.

Published on: Jul 28, 2015
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