Interactive meetings

(Written some years back !)

I am beginning to get truly amazed at the ‘interactive’ meetings. Meetings have always been held. But lately-and the wisdom seems to have dawned slowly but surely- meetings have begun to be interactive. Well at least, they proclaim to be.

Somewhere, much after we all realized that Government delivery of quality service does require peoples’ participation, we realized as well that ‘charity begins at home’. And hence, change began. The change was bound to effect that most important task of ours as well- meetings. And so the meeting agendas began to include separate time for ‘questions and interactions’. At the beginning of each meeting, it would be announced that it would not be a one- way meeting and the officer conducting the meeting expected ‘feedback’. ‘Expected’- was that also a command?

The reactions of those on this side of the table varied. Some were over enthused, and felt few issues could be frankly shared. In fact, they would often wonder, why free and frank feedback was not forthcoming.

As we observed more of such meetings, we realized a few things. First, the meetings would often begin with instructions. Sometimes, those would be motivating as well, and hence let us blame science -which limits the human capacity to listen and pay attention for not more than two hours may be-rather than the officer conducting the meeting. These one sided instructions and a bona fide desire to tell everything important for the benefit of one and all would bring a pleasure on the face of the one conducting the meeting. For it brings more satisfaction than the job getting done itself. One bad effect of this ‘gyan’ would however be encroachment on the time reserved for interaction. So having overshot into the lunch hour, the announcement -‘now we shall open the floor for quick comments!’-sounded less significant and exciting. Someone who did want to make a point was also too scared to invite the wrath of his peers for further delaying the lunch hour or the closure time.

Wish it was just lack of time preventing genuine participation. Many times, one may be lucky to find time to give a feedback. But if you think, your feedback interests anybody or is likely to influence decisions, you may think again! Again, no point blaming it on one conducting the meeting. It is psychology [? and sociology] this time. Psychology because a human being likes to do just what he wants. It does not end at that. He does not like to do what he is told! The logic applies on both sides. Hence, a feedback starts more often a one-upmanship debate. And in a bureaucracy, free and frank discussion has limits. Let’s pay high regards for those amongst us who dare to say, ‘ No sir, I think you’re wrong….!’. Of course, psychology being as complex as it is, more of such behaviour may be inimical to department’s interest or reflects negative attitude. Now isn’t that a fair argument to encourage feedback so much?

But I guess [can only guess because have not studied either of these subjects!], sociology has more to do with this. We as human beings shall speak out only in certain environments. That is ‘ice- breaking’ in participative parlance. It may happen in an environment, which depends on a wide variety of factors ranging from sitting arrangement to basic comforts [like water!] to respect [a welcoming flower!] to a genuine desire for everyone’s engagement.

But for this, the genuine feedback may take one of the other turns. Some set of questions may be batted very well with remarks such as –‘Please raise only macro issues here!’ If issues are raised for clarification on application of policy issues to some field issues, one may be prepared to listen to this-‘ the answer for it has to come from you only!’

At the end of the day, we are satisfied to have taken an interactive meeting, having discussed issues with all, having weighed all opinions and taken an informed decision. It may be only coincidence that the decision matches what we have in mind prior to ‘participation’!



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