When I Have Nothing to Say…

Talking Heads Psycho Killer Vinyl Cover

“When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.” ~Talking Heads

Busted!  I know I was supposed to release a newsletter last week.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I sat down several times and started to pen, well really type, something about end-of-year planning except the muse never grabbed me.

Feeling the pressure to stay in touch with you, my loyal readers, I sat down today and what kept running through my head was the line from the Talking Heads debut album, Talking Heads: 77., “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.”  I didn’t want to write just for writing’s sake.  Then the muse took me, I heard in my head the line that proceeds this one, “You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.” I flashed to my wife coming home from work many years ago complaining about a meeting she had attended.

At the time, she worked for the City Attorney of San Diego.  Her boss called an unexpected and unplanned meeting.  There was no agenda, he just started bloviating, going on and on with those cliché nonsense phrases that corporate America seems fond of that have no real meaning.  To make matters worse, he started the meeting by scheduling the next meeting.  In other words, he planned on, and succeeded at,  not accomplishing anything at the meeting itself.  As the saying goes, that was an hour of her life she would never get back.

It goes without saying that meetings like that are worse than counterproductive, they are destructive to team cohesion and morale.  Meetings without a clear purpose and agenda tell your team that you don’t value their time and by extension, you don’t value their effort or them as individuals.  Chances are your team is busy and trying to be as productive as possible.  Poorly conceived or run meetings interfere with their productivity.  Instead of taking away the things that impede their success you are adding to their stress.  The natural reaction is to think “My boss doesn’t care if I succeed, why should I?”

Locked On Meetings

In order to hold successful meetings, ones that are efficient, encouraging, and productive, we must be “Locked On” to the reason we are meeting.  When a radar is “Locked On” to its target, it is solely focused on the target and nothing else.  All of the radar energy is aimed at the target to the exclusion of everything else.

There are two requirements to holding a Locked On meeting.  First, they must have a specific purpose and second, they must have an agenda with proposed timing


In my experience, there are only three reasons to hold a meeting:

  1. to provide information
  2. to get information, or
  3. to solve a problem.

Meetings can act to achieve more than one of these objectives however a meeting without one of them is a waste of time. Even then you must be careful that, as the meme says, the meeting couldn’t have been an email.

If a meeting’s sole purpose is to gather objective information, information that doesn’t require further discussion for clarity such as production or sales numbers, don’t waste time with a meeting.  Even if those numbers are going to be used to solve a problem, gather them first and present them at the meeting so everyone has the information needed to discuss the problem.  In that case, the meeting would be to give information and solve a problem.  If you don’t need the opportunity to seek or provide clarity, if the information you are gathering or providing is not open to interpretation, then emails, memos, or reports are better vehicles.


Write out an agenda with the amount of time allotted to each topic.  I recommend putting the top-priority items first.  This way if you don’t allocate sufficient time for the agenda item, you have the option of dropping an item at the end of the meeting that is a lower priority.  Then, do your best to keep everyone on the topic so you can finish each agenda item within the allotted time.  Avoid running long at all costs.  Just like meetings with no purpose, meetings that run long are disrespectful to all in attendance.  It causes a cascading effect to everyone’s schedule and adds stress to their day. If need be, you can schedule a follow on meeting.  If you consistently honor your teams’ time, they’ll give you grace when the time comes to break this rule.

If you will need to meet periodically to update information, then hold the meetings at the same time on the same day of the week or day of the month.  For example, every Monday or the first Thursday of the month.  Start them on time, even if you are the only one in the room, and end them on time and your team will respect you for it.

Remember, if you start a conversation, you better finish it or your team will become tense and nervous and can’t relax.

Post a comment with your favorite meeting tip.


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