7 Ugly Phrases We Might Use in Meetings

Books Organizational leadership Respect


Key Point: Why do we often think meetings suck? Well sometimes it comes down to the practical matters related to meeting organization including but not limited to agenda clarity, process, logistics, etc. And frankly these are reasonably easy to fix. One might think when we intentionally get together, it should ideally be a wonderful source of energy, ideas, and collegiality. We know it doesn’t always work out that way. Meetings are often a place where people jockey for position, work out disagreements (nicely or not-so-nicely), and hurt each other’s feelings. Why? 

A very astute business leader who spends a lot of time in meetings, recently forwarded me an article written by Gretchen Rubin, the New York Times best selling author and journalist of The Happiness Project. Rubin’s perspective brings light to the impact of seven “ugly” phrases we may employ consciously and/or unconsciously at meetings. As she notes: “If you’re feeling annoyed or undermined at a meeting, consider whether any of these strategies are being aimed at you. And if you don’t want to annoy or undermine other people, avoid talking this way:

1. ‘I don’t need all the details. Let’s just get to the bottom line.’ The speaker implies that others are quibblers and small-minded technicians, while deflecting the possible need to master complicated details himself.

2. ‘Well, these are the facts.’ The speaker emphasizes that she attends to hard facts, while implying that others are distracted by prejudice, sentiment, or assumption.

3. ‘You might be right.’ The speaker seems open-minded while simultaneously undermining someone else’s authority and credibility.

4. ‘I’m wondering about ____. Pat, please get back to us on this.’ The speaker demonstrates his habit of reasoned decision-making, while making Pat (who may not actually report to him) do the necessary work and report back.

5. ‘You did a great job on that, Pat!’ The speaker shows a positive attitude, while showing that she’s in the position to judge and condescend to Pat. (I must admit, I remember one incident where I did this very consciously. I was furious at someone, and at the next big meeting that we both attended; I gushingly complimented him in a way that drove him nuts.)

6. ‘I think what Pat is trying to say is…’ The speaker shows that he’s a good listener and gives credit to others, while demonstrating that he can take Pat’s simple thought further than Pat could.

7. ‘I can see why you might think that.’ Variant: ‘I used to think that, too.’ The speaker sounds sympathetic, while indicating that she’s moved far ahead in understanding.

Of course, a person could say all these things without being undermining. It depends on context and motivation. Still, it’s useful to think about how seemingly innocuous comments might carry an edge.” 

Character Moves: 

  1. Think of the language and approach you use in meetings regarding REALLY listening to others. Most of the examples above minimize effective listening. Sincere questions to develop a clear understanding are usually more effective. 
  2. It’s often more helpful to declare your personal view and why you feel a certain way without qualifying it in the context of others. Also avoid inappropriately using the conjunction “BUT.” Most of us know that “but” means: Everything before “but” is “wrong.” For example, “I know you think that way, but…” or “I hear what you’re saying, but…” Using “AND” is a better conjunction AND It has to be sincere or it is just “but” in disguise. 
  3. Passion and emotion are important. And sometimes that passion puts our ego into overdrive in a meeting involving hot topics. (This is a personal challenge for me). When our ego tells us it’s important to “win” our viewpoint, our ears seems to fold into our heads and our mouth becomes the ego’s best buddy. Listening goes out the window and it is very easy to slip into one or more of the seven “ugly” phrases Rubin highlights above. Have the self-awareness when your ego revs up to take a breath and get back to better listening. (I find this hard to do sometimes… Especially when aided and abetted by copious amounts of caffeine).

Meeting happiness in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I enjoy meetings. In my office they’re EXTREMELY rare… We openly discuss our business all day long, but there are hardly any structured meetings, so they feel special when they do happen. A poorly structured meeting is therefore extremely disappointing. When I attend a meeting, I want the team leader to express a clear goal of what needs to be accomplished through clear talking points… As an employee, I want to be able to riff, brainstorm and contribute without it being irrationally scrutinized. And nothing is more frustrating than radio silence while the clock ticks. I’d rather hear the world’s worst idea, than no idea. If you are lucky enough to have normally scheduled meetings, try not to mess them up with avoidable nonsense.

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

More From a 7-Year-Old’s Fishing Rod

Accountability Happiness Productivity


Key Point: The blog about my 7-year-old grandson created a lot of response from readers about the simple beauty and multiple “lessons” connected to a child’s fishing victory.

A friend I used to work with sent the following in response: 

“It is amazing that when you stop, look and listen to the things in life that seem so complex, come clearly into view. I read this speech by Brian Dyson (former CEO of Coca-Cola) and it really helped in making sure we think about what are the right things to focus on:

‘Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.

Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.’”

As summer ends, and the fall season grabs hold with added work intensity, it seems like a good time to examine our juggling prowess. 

Character Moves: 

  1. How are you and I doing juggling the “glass balls:” Family, health, friends and spirit? What adjustments can we make? What are the consequences if we don’t? 
  2. Hard work and achieving results at work are obviously important. No excuses allowed. However, no organization worth contributing to should require you and I to damage or break one of the glass balls. Achieving valued work results and juggling the other fragile components of life is something you and I (not the organization) are responsible for. It takes intentional COURAGE and SELF CONFIDENCE to juggle well. 
  3. Follow CEO Dyson’s guideline: “Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued”

Note: the great thing about working with mobile tools is that for many of us, “office hours” and “leaving on time” are antiquated concepts. The key thing is to give the organization expected or better value while we also invest in the other life parts so we grow our personal equity in the most complete way. 

Great Juggling in the Triangle, 


One Millennial View: Now, more than ever, it seems we can successfully “juggle” glass balls without it having an affect on the rubber ball. When Joan Rivers passed away yesterday, it sent my entertainment news team into hyper drive, right at lunch hour, as some editors and our voice over guy had stepped out to eat… Uh oh… Although we were prepared for the anticipated death, it still was a unique situation that required me to tunnel focus on the task. I needed to produce the news in light speed, and the clock was ticking… Just prior, I was in a personal text convo with someone. I chose to ignore my vibrating desk. I now needed to focus on my rubber ball more than one of my glass ones… This happens, and is completely understandable when explained. Phew, glass ball unscathed. But, 99 percent of the time, there’s no such thing as “too busy” anymore, so let’s not shatter glass balls and blame the rubber one unless we’re intending to… (Sometimes glass balls can’t take hints). 

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

7-Year-Old Leadership

Accountability Contribution Teamwork


Key Point: I watched my 7-year-old grandson catch his first two fish this long weekend (Yes… He released the little rainbow trout back into the lake). He was so excited and took it all in wonderful stride; like he knew intuitively that he shouldn’t expect continued success without the perseverance leading to the first one. The catch came after two days of trying with no success… Including, but not limited to endless bait loss, catching weeds that cruelly mimicked a teasing nibble, many tangled lines and one beauty of a cast high into a pine tree. But then, with some kind help of better bait from a seasoned angler, and being in the right place at the right time… Eureka!!! What joy. Two trout in two minutes! A bunch of other fishing colleagues on the shore came over to high five, and declare… “You’re on fire!” Haha. What a celebration.

And at 6:45 a.m. the next morning, sun barely up, the lake smoky grey, and sweetly silent, there he was casting away with a big delicious grin of expectation on his face. The fact that there was no more bait, his best rod and reel on the sideline waiting for grandpa maintenance, was irrelevant. The feel of success, joy and accomplishment was all the motivation he needed to keep on fishing.

When I sat down to write this week’s first blog, he asked me what I was going to write about. I told him I didn’t know. His beautifully innocent response: “It’s ok if you want you want write about me gramps.” Ok, I will, my wonderful 7-year-old friend, you have taught me something again as you do every time I spend time with you. Thank you, Logan.

Recently, my team did some research on improving retention with our newly hired team members. And one of the key findings from the research is that when “newbies” experience real, job related, measurable RESULTS AND a sense of TOGETHERNESS/BELONGING in their first 90 days, they are more likely to stay with us for much longer. When we start something new, it’s disheartening to keep fishing day after day without success and contributing to the team. And when we “catch a fish,” it’s a lot more fun to keep tossing out that line. It’s so obvious… To a 7-year-old.

Character Moves:

  1. Hang out with a great little kid more often if you can. They will give you a full lesson in leadership without the management speak and other blah. It’s lot more fun too.
  2. It is so obvious, but effective leadership and coaching takes INTENTIONAL personal accountability to help people continuously achieve desired results AND a sense of meaningful contribution/belonging. This includes encouraging everyone on “the shore” to celebrate too.

Grand(son) Fishing in a The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Well I can’t help but be biased… He IS my nephew… But, I’ll tell you what… I happen to work in an environment where good feedback or a “well done,” isn’t normally offered. It’s implied. It’s the idea that you should KNOW you’re doing well, and if you’re not, you’ll hear about it… Basically: “Positively perform to a point where you don’t hear otherwise.” However, I just attended an off-hours, co-worker’s party this weekend, and all we did, in a casual scenario, was praise each other and candidly talk about how our team is such a well oiled machine… None of us THINK anyone else needs any encouragement at work… It’s funny… We somehow need a crawfish boil to share what we should tell each other all the time… Sure, it’s our job to “catch fish” on a regular basis… It’s expected, that’s why we got hired… But, you know what? It always feels great to hear about a good catch. I’ll work on casting more positive lines for my coworkers. 

– Garrett 

Edited and Published by Garrett Rubis