The last thing most engineers want in their life is another meeting. The company meeting is no exception. High level hand waving and revenue results are a long way from code.
There can be an overwhelming temptation to skip out to get some code done while everyone else is distracted by talking heads. Especially if company meetings aren’t done well. No matter how engaging or boring, they say a lot about the struggles, successes and the direction of the company. How do you get through it? The trick is to listen through the fanfare and numbers and dial in on how it impacts your work.
Practice active listening
You might have heard about active listening skills and applying them to one on one conversations. Active listening is simple to understand, but hard to put into practice. Especially when you are in a meeting with a lot of people. Foremost, leave your laptop and phone behind and give the speaker your full attention. In a large meeting, the nonverbal active listening rules apply. Make eye contact, nod, and lean forward. The verbal techniques apply too, albeit, nonverbally (unless your group is small enough where participation is encouraged). For example, to better connect with the speaker, think about how you know the individual, what department they work for and how their role connects to your own. If the speaker is directly tied to your work, pay attention to the specifics and make sure that they jive with your understanding of the project. While listening to a speaker that is not in your network, empathize with their work and figure out why it is important to the company.
Take notes and think critically
As you listen and engage with the speaker, write down observations and questions that you have that you can later ask your co-workers, manager or during the Q&A period of the meeting. These questions will force you to challenge yourself to more fully understand what the speaker is saying. Here are some critical thinking questions to get you started:
- Who is affected by this decision?
- What would happen if..?
- What does that acronym mean?
- What does that chart say?
- Where can this be improved?
- Where can you get more information?
- When will we be able to tell if these changes worked?
- Why is this important?
- Why did this happen?
- How is this different from/similar to…?
The big question: how does it impact you?
Conceited as it might sound, it is important to understand how what the speaker is saying impacts you, your role and your code. You may hear competing priorities or misunderstood delivery dates and deadlines. On the brighter side, you may hear about how your project contributed to the bottom line. Take notes on these items too and make sure to connect with your team and manager.
Hint: Bringing up how your project was mentioned at the company meeting is always good fodder for a one on ones and reviews!
Wrap it up already!
When the talking heads finally let you go, the follow up from the meeting is the most important. Thinking through your questions on your own and reviewing them with others is a great way to make sure you understand how you fit in the grand scheme of things. Identifying the speakers exposes your network; who you know and who you need to know. All this insight from a boring meeting!