The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload - Deepstash
The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload

The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload

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The Psychology Behind Meeting Overload

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Meeting FOMO

As meeting participants, we worry that our colleagues will judge us — or worse yet, forget about us — if we don’t accept every invitation. Deeply ingrained norms around what it means to be an “ideal worker” lead us to equate presence with productivity and these assumptions are bolstered when bosses use facetime as a proxy for commitment, or when they fail to represent absent employees’ opinions in meetings.

While it’s on managers to avoid these harmful behaviors, employees can work to overcome these fears by finding ways to demonstrate their value and engagement outside of meetings.

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Leaders will schedule meetings whenever convenient for them, without necessarily considering their teams’ needs or schedules. Sometimes leaders even knowingly schedule meetings when their team has conflicts, forcing everyone to shift their calendars around to accommodate.

While this can be extremely frustrating, selfish urgency often isn’t malicious. People are notoriously bad at recognizing opportunity costs, meaning it may not even occur to many leaders that scheduling a meeting means their team will be unable to spend the time doing something more valuable.

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Meetings as Commitment Devices

Sometimes we use meetings as commitment devices: that is, mechanisms to help make sure people follow through on their promises. An external deadline (like a meeting with your boss) can be an effective motivator — but the meeting itself is often unnecessary, with people simply reporting on how they did or didn’t achieve the agreed-upon target.

To address this issue without losing the motivating effect of meetings as commitment devices, tell your team in advance that the meeting will be canceled if the deadline is met — essentially framing cancellation as the reward for reaching the goal

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When we are stressed, completing seemingly urgent (yet actually unimportant) tasks can provide some relief. This is known as the Mere Urgency Effect. Scheduling and attending meetings can make us feel like we’ve accomplished something, and so we’re often loath to decline or cancel them, even if they are objectively not as important as our other work.

This is often compounded by a strong sense of inertia: If we’ve always held a certain meeting at a certain time, it’s a lot easier to just keep doing that than to reevaluate whether it’s actually a good idea.

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Meeting Amnesia

Too often, we end up in the same bad meeting over and over again, just because no one remembers what was discussed in the last meeting. To avoid meeting amnesia, schedule a short five-minute team debrief after key internal and external calls. These debriefs are especially important in a fully virtual environment since, with fewer opportunities to connect informally, it’s easy for meeting leaders not to notice when employees (especially junior ones) leave a call confused.

In addition, leaders should make it routine to keep track of what was said and to share those summaries with attendees.

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It refers to a phenomenon whereby even though we’re all experiencing the same thing, we assume that other people don’t feel the same way about it as we do. This bias leads us to continue to schedule and attend meetings even when everyone secretly agrees that they’re useless because we assume we’re the only one who thinks so.

To overcome pluralistic ignorance, leaders should encourage their teams to openly share their frustrations and feedback, and they should work together to regularly identify and eliminate unproductive meetings.

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