Work Talk


My colleague gifted me a 2022 calendar called, “Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.” The advice is funny: Make a contemplative face. Suggest a walking meeting. Write “IDEAS” on a whiteboard. It also hits close to home. I work in an environment where people work hard at sounding smart. Often over the years, I’ve reviewed memos with a dictionary in hand. The vocabulary these documents employ never crossed my desk as a high school history teacher. MBA required.


The feeling that I’m not quite with the program has only grown during the pandemic, as we’ve conducted all work over Teams. The chat has become my new nemesis.


Meeting facilitators not infrequently invite participants to paste a meme in the chat – something that illustrates one’s current mood or connects to the topic at hand. Yes, it took me several attempts to find and post a meme without help. But that, honestly, hasn’t been my main issue. Establishing a common meme vocabulary with younger colleagues is a much bigger hurdle. One day, I posted Lucy pulling away the football for Charlie Brown to express that I’d had a frustrating day. No reactions. Not one heart or smiley face. Meanwhile, my teammate’s meme that read, “Adulting should be optional” lit up the chat. I don’t even really know what that means.


I also can’t get on board with chatting with colleagues during meetings. I was taught to pay attention during presentations – no doodling, no sidebar conversations. Maintain eye contact. Over Teams, a presenter can be walking participants through a PowerPoint while those very same participants engage in a robust conversation over chat. Processing the information happens in real time rather than after the meeting. Its efficient. And I can’t do it. It’s a form of multitasking that my brain resists. Once I enter the chat, the presentation may as well be on mute. I miss it all.


In my mind, I have two options when things get lost in translation. I can be honest and say that I’m not tracking. (After hearing the word “bespoke” used in meeting after meeting, I finally found the courage to ask what it meant.) Or I can punt and adopt the advice in my new calendar, wondering aloud if we should “run this up the flagpole.”




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