Survival of the Not-So-Fittest

Ah, staff meetings. The bane of every introvert’s existence. There’s nothing quite like being stuck in a room with a bunch of extroverted folks you barely know, all vying for the spotlight. I’ve had my fair share of staff meetings, and let me tell you, they’re not my favorite thing in the world.

First, there’s the whole “small talk” thing. As a group introverts are not exactly known for our ability to chitchat with strangers and I’m the queen of not-having-the-ability-to-chitchat. But in all-staff meetings, it’s expected. And did I mention that I hate chitchat?  While everyone else is talking about their weekend plans or the latest TV show they’re obsessed with, I’m sitting there silently, wondering when we can get down to business so I can go home.

Then, there’s the inevitable moment when someone asks for my input. I always try to come up with something intelligent to say, but half the time, I end up stumbling over my words and sounding like a complete idiot. I mean, I guess it’s better than fact-dumping on serial killers of the Midwest or Bigfoot sightings around the world. Which, as you can see, is why I normally keep myself to myself. My coworkers think I’m quiet and demure when in reality, I just don’t think they’d appreciate my contribution to the “what did you watch last night” conversation.

Oh joy, there’s a group brainstorming session. No mention of that in the agenda. You know the drill – someone writes a question on a whiteboard and then everyone else starts shouting out ideas. I find this process incredibly overwhelming. Even when I’m familiar with the subject – experienced even, I need time to think and process information, and the pressure of coming up with ideas on the spot is almost painful. I find that I can survive this part of Hell the meeting so long as we stay in one large group… it’s when we’re forced to break off into subgroups that the situation turns dire. Because the smaller the group, the more you have to participate. Despite appearances, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say. My brain is full of ideas, whether for good or bad, it’s just that I’m not overly fond of fighting the increasingly raised voices of my A-personality colleagues clamoring to impress the meeting facilitator.

After lunch – which for me consisted of a makeshift salad made from the dry lettuce, tomato, and onion meant for the burgers that were served buffet style, because the event planner forgot to order a vegetarian meal – there was a team building exercise with an all-new meeting facilitator. Just what I wanted to do on an almost empty stomach.

As we all gathered in the conference room, I tried to shrink back into the shadows, hoping no one would notice me. You know, as one does. But of course, the team building leader spotted me at once and called me out, asking me to “start us off” by introducing myself to the group. I stuttered out a few words about my job title and some hobbies that I absolutely do not take part in, but remembered hearing about somewhere, feeling my face turn bright red as all eyes turned to me. In these impromptu autobiographical open-mike moments, I can never seem to recall anything whatsoever about myself, which is amazing really, considering I’ve known myself for forever.

Once they broke up into groups to make their way around the various “escape room” style activities that had been set up around the conference room, I made my own escape and nicked off to the bathroom.  I may have stayed there a bit longer than necessary and then I may have taken a detour past the vending machine.

Unfortunately, I had obviously misjudged the time, because instead of getting back in time to say our goodbyes, I slipped into the room just as the facilitator announced that we would be playing a game of “Two Truths and a Lie,” where we would each share three statements about ourselves, and the group would have to guess which one was the lie. Much more socially acceptable than truth or dare, but not one of my favorites, mostly because of the aforementioned problem with remembering anything about my life. And quite honestly, this is usually the sort of icebreaker that plays out at the start of a meeting, not at the end. Well played, Mr. Facilitator. Well played indeed.

So of course, I did what anyone would do, I panicked. What could I say that was interesting enough to grab the group’s attention, but also not too revealing? I racked my brain for ideas, feeling the pressure mount with each passing second. Just as I decided that this would be the prime opportunity for another bathroom break, it was my turn. I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, here are my three statements: I once competed in a national chess tournament, I once partied with the members of Metallica, and I have a pet tarantula named Steve.”

The group stared at me in shock. Was I really a chess champion? Did I really have a pet tarantula? No one questioned the Metallica story… I’m not sure how to feel about that. As they deliberated, I started to feel a twinge of regret for making my statements so outlandish.

Finally, someone spoke up. “I’m guessing the lie is the tarantula,” they said. I let out a sigh of relief and nodded, grateful to have survived yet another staff retreat. I did learn one thing from all of this, though, and that’s to plan ahead. I can already feel myself getting sick this time next year.