In our professional lives, we have all experienced odd and unusual meetings, whether baffling, entertaining, refreshing or downright crazy. Meetings across cultures are always an eye-opener, with the following 5 experiences that stick firmly in my memory.
1. Smartphone Stupidity
I’m sure you’ve been in meetings where mobile phones have rung – whether on vibrating on silent or on full volume for the enjoyment of the others in the meeting – that has been greeted by different responses by the receiver. Apologies are sometimes given, urgent calls are taken after by a quick dash outside or simply ignored.
A common response to a ringing mobile phone, particularly in Asia, is to stop talking and take the phone call – sometimes without any apologies or acknowledgement that such actions are impacting upon the meeting. I have been in meeting with over 30 participants, with the person leading the meeting stopping mid-sentence to answer a phone call with the expectation that we are all to wait for their phone call to be resolved. Talking about a productive meeting with a room full of people waiting for one person to get off the phone! To say the least, this behaviour can be very frustrating!
2. Caffeinated Conference
A true benefit of working in Denmark was that all meetings were not started with at least one pot of coffee available on the meeting room table. Regardless the size and nature of the meeting – even tense commercial meetings – coffee was always available or the meeting did not begin. As a coffee lover (and addict) I enjoyed this very much! It’s a testament to the Danish work ethic that meetings weren’t scheduled later to keep everyone working into the evening!
3. The Chinese Change-Up
The venue for meetings in China, particularly presentations and negotiations, are quite fluid and often change without notice. On a business trip to China to spruik our services for a project, we arrived ten minutes early for a meeting. Rather than head to the meeting room to meet with the client, we were directed to a restaurant adjacent to the client’s offices, where the client, their consultants and other representatives were finishing lunch.
Our well-prepared presentation was put aside (for the time-being) and we discussed the project and our services that we could bring to the project, while being offered strange and unusual Chinese deserts. Unfortunately, a menu was not available in English and as to not break the dialogue about the project, I picked up a small pastry and put it in my mouth. To my dismay, the delicate pastry contained durian – a fruit from tropical parts of Asia – which, well… let’s just say its’ an acquired taste. Fortunately, the meeting didn’t spiral into a baijiu banquet, with the potent Chinese liquor being consumed in excess via drinking showmanship.
4. Protracted Procurement
Business is full of surprises and pitch presentations certainly have the most uncertainty attached to the undertaking and the eventual outcome. Sometimes communication has been lacking (or non-existent at times) and a message is lost, whether in translation, inaction or being “too busy”.
On one project, I had been discussing alternate options to a RFPs because the original RFP in question was unachievable due to client program and/or budget. I arrived on-site to discuss the RFP further with the client, only to be told “sorry, you must fulfil the original RFP, we cannot accept any deviation”. Unfortunately, I had travelled from Asia to Europe for this meeting and had to return with my tail between my legs. Along a similar vein, I have been involved in lengthy procurement negotiations, which have continued after the award of the contract to another supplier. Completely baffling!
5. Meeting Madness
By no means a common thing, I have been involved in projects with some quite negative and sometimes violent personalities. Meetings with such people have been eventful and included screaming and shouting, which were definitely the most common and often accompanied by wild waving of hands and sometimes throwing of pens and papers.
However, my favourite has to be chair throwing. Words cannot express the surprise at seeing a chair go sailing across a full meeting room. It certainly gets everyone’s attention! Perhaps it was a not so subtle effort to promote the positive and dissuade the negative tendencies and experiences list above!
At the end of the day, meetings will contain curve balls, slaps to the face and generally unsettling behaviour. It is important to have an open mind to the possibilities, focus the meetings to your advantage to get results and, perhaps most significantly, to select appropriate attire for your meetings – perhaps a suit of armour, or at the very least safety helmets to protect yourself from those flying chairs!