A Bug Book for Meetings

In a recent podcast interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, management thinker Jim Collins shared an interesting concept. Early on in his successful career, he used to keep what he calls a bug book.

As he describes on the podcast, he studied himself “with dispassionate objectivity” as if he were a bug and kept a journal of his observations. One of the things he wrote about was what “the bug Jim” liked and disliked, which ultimately helped him find his passion in life.

When listening to this conversation, I started to wonder: what about a bug book for meetings? What if we would study ourselves in meetings with a scientist’s eye and keep notes of it?

For one thing, it would make sense to learn more about the creature that we are in meetings. Our actions in communication are often driven by impulse. Many of us tend to respond before the other person has finished speaking, and it’s much easier to criticize than to try to understand the other person’s perspective.

A bug book could be a tool to help you become more aware of your communication pitfalls. This will help you better manage your natural tendencies and become a more effective communicator.

To provide more structure to your bug book, you could focus your entries on the following questions, which are loosely inspired by this HBR article:

  • How do my emotions, assumptions and biases lead me to act in a certain way?

  • How do my actions in meetings affect other people?

  • How am I contributing to a misunderstanding, conflict or a wasteful meeting?

Here are more questions that provide direction: What do you want more and less of in meetings? When do meetings boost or drain your energy? When do you feel powerful in a meeting? What makes you lose your focus and wander off track? What prevents you from really listening?

It’s important to write about yourself in the third person, so you maintain a scientific distance. Here’s a fictitious example:

“The bug Marcel talked too much in today’s meeting. John tried to passionately explain something, but the bug felt the urgency to cut John off and share his own perspective. John didn’t say much in the remainder of the meeting.”

Of course, you regularly have to go back to these notes to discover patterns and formulate strategies to better manage your impulses.

Stephen Covey said: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space.”

If you understand how you tend to respond in certain situations, you can better use that space to choose your response and create a more productive interaction.