Yep, it’s true, every week Americans spend an outrageous number of hours in meetings or preparing for them. Though you can’t likely cancel all the meetings on your calendar that promise boredom or frustration, you don’t have to consider all that time a waste. With a little bit of planning, some attention to wordsmithing, and a mindset shift, you can make even the most aggravating meeting work for you. Don’t believe me? Give the strategies below a whirl and let me know how it goes for you.

Set Your Agenda

While all meetings should have a formal agenda, you can also strategically set your own agenda for every meeting you have. Sure, you want to present your work well, or establish a timeline for the product roll out, or decide where the company picnic will be held. Those are all tangible outcomes. The agenda I’m recommending is intangible. I recommend focusing on two parts: what you want for them and what you want for yourself. You may want a nervous subordinate to trust you, a supervisor to see you as capable, or a new colleague to get past thinking you’re a threat. All of those dynamics can be impacted by your actions and word choice. What you want for yourself will also be intangible. Consider finding out how confident your new manager is, or better understanding the relationship between two of your peers, or perhaps discovering the emotions and motivations driving a new program. When you spend a little time assessing your career trajectory, you’ll find that knowing what makes others tick and having them regard you in a certain way can pave the path forward for you. Meetings can provide a great setting for much of this work.

Build a Bridge

Sometimes, you’ll sit down at a meeting and wonder why you’re there. You may not be part of the primary work group, you might not have expertise on the issue at hand, or frankly, you might not really care about the discussion items. Rather than sit back and hope no one asks you to participate, look for a place to build a bridge. One person may mention cost and another may bring up value. You can chime in with a “both, and” statement that connects their two ideas into a new whole. By simply saying, “I think Jim’s right to be monitoring our cost and Jenny’s spot on with her concern about value. We’ll need to keep both in mind as we move on to the next stage in the process,” you’ll have spoken up in a way that supports your peers and moves you into a speaking role. Also consider serving as an amplifier for ideas that make sense to you and co-workers you want to support. A well-placed question can set the stage for them to shine. This kind of behavior can help others to see you as an ally.

Look to Learn

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can learn. You might be learning how not to run a meeting, that your manager hates yellow daisies, or that your colleague plays Candy Crush when no one is watching.   While it might not seem like valuable information at the time, you never know when it might come in handy. Being able to veto the birthday daisies for your boss in a few months may raise your status with your peers and help the team hit a home run in the thoughtfulness department. Observation is an excellent teacher and you can put it to work with very little investment.

Whether you attend one annoying meeting this week or a dozen, use your time at the table in a way that benefits you and your career plans. No need to let anyone else know you’re making lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been served; simply move forward and make the best of a previously wasteful situation.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson