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.

Hell on Earth

After a recent week’s worth of company training, I thought I would take a moment and give some feedback. Quite frankly, other than the bagels and donuts that so often accompany these events, work place training sessions are a complete waste of time.  I’m sorry, but it’s true. Games, role-playing, team answers to ridiculous questions, and worst of all … participation is expected.  As a raging introvert, I can think of few other anxiety-inducing events that top a rousing “role playing” or “group participation” session.

Seriously though, I’m hard pressed to say which type of training is the least annoying.

Death by PowerPoint:  This involves a computer and a screen. After the inevitable ten minutes of fumbling, the computer operator will have to go find someone to come “fix” the presentation, so the training can proceed.  All PowerPoint presentations follow the same path: the first slide is supposed to be amusing, but seldom is.  Then, the “class” starts where one person stands robotically reading each slide, point by painful point, sometimes with the help of a laser pointer.  When a break is called, people run to the smoking area even though they weren’t smokers when the class started.

The Professional Speaker:  Sometimes, you get the privilege of having a guest speaker.  This person usually brings their own computer presentation, fumbles with the computer for ten minutes, then goes to find someone to come fix the presentation.  The first slide is supposed to be funny…you get the idea.

New Age Co-Op:  These training sessions bring emotions into the classroom.  You start with trust exercises that involve throwing out your back when your trustworthy coworker gets a text at the same moment they’re supposed to catch you, and end with hugging your coworkers and telling them just what it is about them that is so gosh darned special.  Apparently, “You’re special because you’re sleeping with the boss” is not an acceptable comment; I got sent back to my office (which is where I wanted to be in the first place) and banned from participating next year.

Role-Playing:  This is an offshoot of the New Age Co-Op training.  When you role-play, you may have to play the part of a customer, or maybe a manager if you’re lucky.  You are placed in several unrealistic situations and expected to respond appropriately while your coworkers critique your performance.  Again, I am banned from participation for a year when, as a “customer,” I overturned three tables and dumped water on Joe from accounting after being told by the “waitress” that they didn’t have unsweetened ice-tea.  The people role-playing the police department were very talented… had uniforms, i.d., and everything.

Team Groups:  In this training process, you are split into groups and given tough questions to figure out, most often in a “Jeopardy” or “Family Feud” format, because nothing says “team building” quite like pitting coworkers against each other – especially when a $5.00 gas card is involved.  Your answers are presented by the “team leader” to the rest of the class.  I was in the restroom and came back to find I had been elected team leader in my absence.  My aforementioned ban was solidified when I stood up and told my best joke instead. No-one laughed. And I’m freakin’ hilarious.

Don’t get me wrong; training is a very important part of keeping workers up to date on changes and evolving processes within the company.  The bad part is that these training sessions could be accomplished in an email thereby saving money, time, and reputations.

Every worker in the world follows the exact same pattern when they have a workplace training session.

  • Try to call out sick
  • Charge the phone for Facebook browsing and Words with Friends
  • Pretend to be in the middle of a project and look very busy in the hopes you will be excused
  • Show up as late as you can and take the seat all the way in the back or position yourself nearest the snacks
  • Notify your friends to call you frequently so you can excuse yourself because “This is about that big client.”
  • Appear to be taking extensive notes when in reality you are drawing cartoons (my personal favorite)
  • Nod deeply and agree occasionally so the presenter thinks you are actively engaged

There are, however, a few things that will get you thrown out of work place training.  I have compiled a list of my the most effective ones:

  • Stand up and yell “hallelujah,” “preach,” and “amen” randomly throughout the session.
  • Raise your hand and ask questions about things completely unrelated to your job or the company, such as is the color orange called orange because it’s the color of oranges or are oranges called oranges because they’re orange, OR how do geese know which goose goes first when migrating.
  • Sneeze and cough repeatedly; more effective if you bring some type of slime from your kid’s collection and launch it across the room while coughing.
  • Write your boss’ name on your name tag and be disruptive.
  • Lean back in your chair and toss spitballs at the screen like the moody antagonist in an ’80s John Hughes flick.
  • Lick the donuts in front of everyone and put them back.
  • Answer your phone loudly and declare, “I don’t care how much money you have invested in this company, I can’t help you! I’m in training!”

In all honesty, work training can be a valuable tool if it is approached correctly.  Unfortunately, most companies don’t approach it correctly and the entire process is one that is universally hated.  Can I get an Amen?