As I joined Paddy at our favourite table in the coffee shop I suspected from his body language that he was steamed about something, a suspicion that was confirmed before I was even seated.
“It’s a good thing you weren’t at our local taxpayers’ association meeting last night,” Paddy declared.
“Probably was,” I agreed, “since I don’t live in your neighbourhood or belong to the group.”
“It wasn’t that,” he growled, “it was because you would have killed the chairman. He was easily the worst chairman I’ve ever encountered; and I’ve probably been to over a thousand meetings in my lifetime.”
“Do tell,” I urged.
“Well,” Paddy said, “first of all you’ve always said that when you’re in the chair you’re in charge; or something like that.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“Well, this turkey was anything but in charge,” Paddy sputtered. “First of all, he was over half an hour late starting the meeting. Wasn’t starting on time one of your cardinal rules?”
“Definitely,” I agreed.
“And didn’t you always say that the chair of a meeting should always start with a brief statement of what was expected to be accomplished, announce the time of adjournment, and stick to it?” he asked.
“Right again,” I said, “and, these days, before starting the agenda the chair should ask if anyone is expecting any emergency messages on their devices and request that anyone who isn’t expecting a critical message turn them off, and that those who are expecting critical transmissions turn their devices to “vibrate” and then leave the room if they need to take a call or read a text.”
“Well,” Paddy said, “not only did this turkey not do that, his own cell phone rang about ten minutes into the meeting. And I think his ring was the sound of a chainsaw”
“Please don’t tell me he took the call,” I said.
“No,” responded Paddy, “he didn’t, but he did pause to see who the caller was before turning it off. And, which I guess was predictable, a few other phones rang during the meeting because even after his own phone rang he didn’t issue any warning.”
“Anything else?” I prodded.
“Hell, yes!” Paddy blurted, “He started each agenda item by stating his views on the matter,” Paddy said.
“That’s definitely a no-no,” I stated, “a chair shouldn’t introduce his or her own views on an agenda item until it’s obvious no one else is going to raise such points. Also, it’s the chair’s responsibility to encourage everyone to participate, but to never embarrass or force anyone into speaking. How did he do on that?”
“Didn’t do a damn thing in that regard,” Paddy said, “and not only that, he allowed two other turkeys to spend an inordinate amount of time arguing with each other.
“Another no-no,” I said, “I’ll bet they were seated across from each other, weren’t the?”
“Yeah,” Paddy responded, “how did you know that?”
“I didn’t,” I admitted, “but a really good chairperson will control the seating and not hesitate to arrange it so that people who tend to argue with each other sit on the same side of the table. Of course this has to be done subtly and diplomatically, but confrontations will be fewer and shorter if potential combatants aren’t facing each other across the table.”
“Another thing,” Paddy said, “he was constantly making notes and looking through his papers and files. I don’t think he actually heard what anybody said.”
“That’s particularly bad,” I agreed, “no one can run a good meeting without listening intently to every speaker. The chair also has to be sure that no one person dominates a discussion, and that’s hard to do if you’re not paying attention.”
“I’m sure he broke every rule in the book,” Paddy said.
“Did he finish on time?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” Paddy barked, “just when most of us thought the meeting was over about five people put their hands up and started shouting that they had items they wanted to raise. That created chaos and resulted in the meeting running about an hour overtime.”
“There’s another cardinal rule he broke,” I pointed out. “As you already mentioned, what he should have done was open the meeting with a brief statement of what the meeting hoped to accomplish, announce the scheduled time of adjournment, and then ask if anyone has any new business to add to the agenda.”
“If time is limited,” I went on, “some or all of the new items, or possibly an existing agenda item or two may have to be deferred. He should have made and announced this decision right away.”
“Could he arbitrarily defer items?” Paddy asked.
“I’d have to check on the proper rules of procedure,” I answered, “but I’m pretty sure he could arbitrarily defer any new business. Personally, Usually I would put the deferral of any item, new or old, to a vote.”
“Why don’t you get into the business of chairing meetings?” Paddy asked.
“At this stage of my life,” I replied, “I don’t even want to go to a meeting, let alone chair one.”
“I understand perfectly,” Paddy said as he reached for his coat.