Expats and office meetings
Most Westerners don’t enjoy being stuck in meetings that are overly long and involve listening to issues that don’t affect them directly. Even if you’re keen for an opportunity to talk, you have to pay for it by listening to others.
One day I found myself in a meeting at work that didn’t relate to myself or my department. When I was eventually told that I could leave, I immediately stood up, eliciting a huge laugh from half the people in the room.
The reason for this merriment was my timing. The very nanosecond I was told I could leave, I was bolt upright and ready to be out the door.
Sigmund Freud, author of Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, believed that humor is often the conscious expression of thoughts that society suppresses. I risked being thought of as less than a team player, but I think I got away with it because the Chinese staff had no idea why anyone was laughing.
Chinese workers genuinely seem to be accustomed to and even enjoy protracted, seemingly pointless meetings. How- ever, for a Westerner, sitting through a three-hour meeting where no relevant issues are discussed can seem like an unbearable waste of time.
This is what a Buddhist teacher would call “rationalization.” Determining whether a meeting is a waste of time is the result of rational thinking. The real reason for the meeting might be emotional significance.
Why are Chinese workers happy to sit through lengthy meetings? It might be to show people you are a team player, clap at the right moments and laugh at the right jokes. You might also learn the real role of your coworkers.
My company has recently started holding “Buddhistthemed” meetings. It seemed rather odd at first, but I’m now trying to pick up one or two cultural pointers.
Once, I walked into a meeting of senior and middle managers that had a very casual feeling. Everyone was seated, passing around plates of sunflower seeds, and laughing. I felt a bit excluded then, as I had spent the whole time seated at my desk working.
Perhaps a wiser man would spend more time building connections in meetings and less time on what I’ve been culturally programmed to think of as real work.