Why People Leave Your Meetings Feeling Empty Inside


The same woman has been cutting my hair for the past 20 years. Over the course of that time, I’ve come to know her as an emotionally resilient single mother. So I was surprised when she told me that she recently left a work-related meeting “feeling empty inside.” It also piqued my interest, because I consider myself to be emotionally resilient, and yet I’ve left meetings “feeling empty inside,” as well.

The meeting she described was a product training conducted by the maker of hair products that she represents.

“Everything at the meeting was like, ‘aren’t we great’ and ‘here’s why you should love us.’ All about them. Nothing about me.”

It reminded me of a product presentation I conducted several years ago to an audience of sales and customer service people. I talked on and on about our growth in users, I demonstrated the new features, and I talked about how this new functionality was going to lead to future revenue growth. All about the product and the company. Nothing about them.

It didn’t occur to me until this haircut to contemplate how people might have been feeling inside during that presentation.

This thought was reinforced during a work lunch that came after that haircut. There we were, four intelligent, considerate, well-intentioned people. As we talked, I paid attention to people’s changes in body language and facial expression. This lunch dynamic, like so many others, included one high-energy person who had a lot to say, two others who wanted to keep up, and one who became increasingly quiet. The quiet one fielded one question about herself with no follow-up questions asked. People talked past her as their own ideas gained steam.

I left the lunch feeling emptier inside. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one. I felt unsettled that we marginalized the quiet one. And I realized that I’d done a lot of talking about myself and my own ideas, something that was ultimately profoundly unfulfilling.

The great workplace culture and performance researcher Marcus Buckingham has said that, to love your work, you need to appreciate your team and be appreciated as an individual. He explains that people don’t crave feedback; they crave appreciation. It’s why Instagram is chasing to catch up to Snapchat. More than likes and comments, humans really just want to be seen.

In his 20-plus-year study of high-performing teams, he found that the two most important predictors of team success are the degree to which team members affirmatively answer these questions:

  • At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  • I have a chance to use my strengths every day at work.

While “we” are also important, appreciation of “me” drives the most positive feelings. Neglect “me” and I’ll leave the meeting feeling emptier inside.

In my last post, I highlighted the first principle for human relationships in Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain.

Do you know the second principle for strong human relationships? It governs how human beings across the world, throughout history, have felt after leaving an interaction with you:

Give honest, sincere appreciation.

Do it, and people won’t leave meetings feeling empty inside. The reason is simple: It feels good to see and appreciate people. And it feels good to be seen and appreciated.

So the next time we’re pitching our companies, or doing product demos, or just having lunch with colleagues, let’s not show so much appreciation for ourselves and our own ideas. Instead, let’s appreciate others.

Maybe we’ll all walk out of more meetings feeling better inside.

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