September 22, 2016
Nails on the chalkboard. Cracking knuckles. Constant pen clicking. Each of these noises can highly annoy someone – even on a good day.
Advocates can also give their meeting hosts that same highly annoyed feeling – not through noises – but by making some common meeting mistakes – mistakes advocates often don’t know they are making. Staff may not directly indicate their pet peeves, however, they may be rolling their eyes on the inside, subtly looking at their watch, or making a mental note to not take an advocate’s next meeting request – or certainly not schedule it with the boss.
Based on my own experiences, and an informal survey of staff, some common meeting pet peeves include:
Calling the official by his first name. It is great that an advocate donated money, campaigned for the official, went to grade school with him, attends the same church, or has known his buddy for a decade, however, if an advocate is meeting in the official’s office where the official holds a title that he worked hard to earn – an advocate should be respectful and use that title, whether the official is present or not.
Speaking of names, incessant name dropping. Staff get it, advocates want them to think they are important and know everyone, etc., however if name dropping is the method of choice to make that known, no staff person is being wowed. Focus on being prepared, organized and having a worthwhile ask.
Being on the phone. A staff person or official cannot tell if a person is taking notes, reading the meeting agenda, or watching a video stream of his dog at home. Worse, sometimes they can directly see someone scrolling through Facebook. Avoid this by going old school and using pen and paper to demonstrate the meeting is important, time is valued, and the advocate is actively engaged and listening.
Not leading the meeting. Organize an agenda and have a plan of who speaks on what, and when. Additionally, resolve any conflicting issues or group disagreements before the meeting, not during it. There are few things worse for a staff person than needing to “lead” a meeting on a random topic someone else requested. It does not better help an advocate try to see where the staff person takes the issue, or what he knows, it just annoys staff, uses up valuable time an advocate could be addressing the crux of the matter, and limits the staff in actually asking relevant questions.
Saying “It’s always been done that way.” Treat these words like the plaque. Government is often viewed as slow, archaic, and filled with red tape. Leaders want to be innovative, fresh, and impactful where they can be. As a result, think about how programs can be enhanced and how the ask of a leader could improve something, not just check a standard box.
There are certainly more pet peeves out there. Feel free to email me at Wendy@1492communications.com with other examples for a future column. The good news is that if an advocate is guilty of any of these, it is never too late to become more aware and make positive changes. Staff and officials will be grateful, and it may even help improve an advocate’s meeting outcomes.