(Illustrated by David Yambem for MPV)
| Amita Basu | The Argumentative Amita | Article No 3 |

(This is the third column in The Argumentative Amita series.)

Picture this. You’re having a wonderful day when, suddenly, you find yourself struggling to stay awake. The sun ducks behind the clouds. Life loses all purpose. It must be that time of month again. Or, if you’re unlucky, that time of week, or even day. That’s right: it’s time for your pointless, time-wasting, soul-killing work meeting.

If the meeting will be headed by your CEO, dean, or other big shot, prepare yourself – slip into the bathroom, turn to the mirror, and practise your best fake, fawning smile. For the career ladder is steep, and the people who’ve climbed to the top have regrettably been compelled to shed a lot of deadweight along the way. First to go: a sense of reality. Convinced that he/she is a standup comic to rival Michael McIntyre and Abhishek Upamanyu, your superior will be expending anywhere between 20% and 60% of the work meeting exploiting his/her captive audience to crack joke after joke. Being able to make someone laugh is, after all, the ultimate power move – laughter is involuntary, therefore honest. Says who? Clearly, somebody who’s never heard the cackle of jackal laughs that dog your boss’s infinite series of dad jokes. So perform your facial exercises in the mirror, warm up your laughing muscles, and check your teeth for lunchtime palak greenly lining your pearly whites.

Reach the venue of the meeting early. That way you’ll have your choice of seats. If you have any ambition at all, grab a front-row seat, the better to grimace, nod, and bow at the VIP on the podium. If, however, you’ve got better things to do, eschew the front rows and your closest colleagues, tuck your ID card into your pocket, and lurk in the back with those people from that other department, those useless fellows you’re always mocking. Sit with strangers. This way, nobody will be able to identify, after the meeting, the loyal employee who was even more loyal to his/her phone or laptop. Remember to keep looking up occasionally. Study intently the face of whichever boss or boss’s boss is leading the meeting. Let your eyes widen with astonishment at the wisdom being scattered like pearls on pigs. Catch the speaker’s eye and nod vehemently. This is no time to underact. Think Bollywood, not Hollywood. Then go back to finishing that audit report or browsing Facebook to document how abysmally your ex is faring after the catastrophic event of your departure from his/her life.

At smaller meetings, you have a better chance of surviving by, paradoxically, making yourself more prominent. Sit right up in the front, facing your boss. Volunteer to write the minutes and to Google any urgent information. Establish, early on, that you’re fully present, 120% present. Ask intelligent questions. Make longwinded suggestions. Shout yourself hoarse volunteering for work activities – but stick to those whose date, whose very occurrence, is uncertain. Then you can safely withdraw into your own activities.

A privacy screen for your laptop monitor will keep your rubbernecking neighbours in the dark. A peeking neighbour, wondering if you’re typing up the minutes of the meeting or a Medium post titled ‘101 Ways to Murder Your Boss and Get Away with It,’ will be confronted only by a black screen. If your last raise was inadequate to cover a privacy screen, leaving your monitor unguarded – then tab back quickly to your Minutes document, then rotate your screen to satisfy your inquisitive colleague, your self-titled best friend, who is insatiably collecting information in order to defame you in his/her next private chat with your mutual boss. Two can play at that game! Get your work done during the meeting, and hang around afterwards to pass on to your boss fatal facts or fictions about your sycophantic colleague.

Seriously, get your laptop a privacy filter. It’s an easy way to multitask your meetings and keep your stock with the boss sky-high.

If the meeting meanders, be the one who steers the discussion back on track. But, if it’s your boss who’s creating the diversion, tread carefully. Try quoting back to the boss one of his/her own side-splitting jokes or super-Socratic axioms, then segue slyly back to the agenda. Your colleagues will secretly thank you. They might be pretending to be enjoying the informal chatting and socialising – but socialising at work is always, without exception, joyless and driven by ulterior motives. When you’re abbreviating a work meeting, you’re doing God’s work.

Seize any opportunity to slip away. Ladies, meeting-day should be the day your period starts, necessitating long layovers at the loo. “Some women never get menstrual cramps” – says who? Says a liar, a so-and-so whose only motive is to suck up to the boss, that’s who. Gents, fear not: we’ve got a get-out-of-the-meeting card for you, too. Volunteer to run to the cafeteria to fetch snacks and beverages for everyone. This is the time to socialise with the café’s chef and cooks, to commit to memory every waiter’s name and family tree, and to thoroughly study the five-page menu, the better to prepare for your own lunch order tomorrow. But you don’t want to keep your colleagues waiting too long. Their hunger pangs and yawns of boredom might morph into resentment at your transparent escape tactic. So your best bet is to bring the food back ASAP, let your colleagues start munching, clap your hand to your head as you realise you’ve forgotten the paper napkins or plastic forks, and run back to fetch these vital appurtenances. This is the trip on which you can really take your time. Come back just as the meeting is ending. Narrate a long, labyrinthine story about how the café and the corner store and even the local supermarket had mysteriously run out of napkins and forks. Threaten to have an apoplectic fit when you face the tragic fact that this unfortunate concatenation of circumstances has caused you to miss the second half, the best half, of your weekly work meeting. Make your boos promise to give you a digest at the earliest opportunity.

In surveys conducted by polling institutes of the highest probity, employees worldwide unanimously agree that work meetings are a waste of time. You will surely find your own tactics for surviving these horrible hindrances to a wonderful workday.

A parting tip: if your boss holds meetings only rarely, and keeps them short and sweet, then drop everything immediately, abandon your friends and family, and bring your boss a carton of incense sticks, a lifetime supply of misri, and a pedestal. For you have found the closest thing there is to a god in the workplace: a boss who hates meetings as much as you do.



Amita Basu, is the Columnist and Interviews Editor of MeanPepperVine. She loves Captain Planet, barefoot running, and George Eliot. If dozing in the sun all day were a viable career, she’d be a world-champion sunbather. Her superpowers are befriending any dog on earth, whistling tunefully (while being totally unable to sing), and combining five bright colours in one outfit. Five is the limit, though.