I have traumatic flashbacks for these folks* about the impressions they made with unfiltered comments:

The Accuser

  • Scenario: Full faculty meeting of large clinical department, last 5 minutes of announcements and next steps.
  • Context: Chair of search committee for new division chief announces they have narrowed field to the last individual who visited and invites comments. Glowing remarks ensue from senior faculty.
  • Gaffe: Junior faculty member interjects: “Did we know he was sued for harassment at [name of institution] and follow up on that?”

Super important if accurate but all wrong for timing, setting, and approach. Re-do: have a discreet side-bar with the search committee chair at close of meeting and note you are hesitant to interject yourself into a successful search but wanted to assure s/he, as committee chair, was aware of the prior settlement against the faculty member. If you can’t make the connection face-to-face, email the chair and ask for a quick phone call. Do not broadcast your concerns. Deliberation has likely occurred and the candidate may be your colleague soon. Don’t pollute the pond but do be sure not to withhold key information from leadership. Go cautiously because you may have blind spots in areas they can see clearly. Pick your communication channel and setting carefully.

The Repeater & Story Teller

  • Scenario: Research team discussion for brainstorming components of the next large grant.
  • Context: Weekly lab meeting with four faculty, two post docs, grad students, and staff – an even dozen. Ideas are hopping from all participants. Group has high energy with some solid and some ridiculously bad ideas on the whiteboard, laughter and chatter ensues. Faculty member has reputation for repeating what others have said.
  • Gaffe: Faculty member cuts in and diffuses the energy by repeating an idea already in play. Tells a story about a project with similar feel that was a flop. Invokes wisdom earned by experience and derails discussion.

Understand the flow of the discussion. Don’t block creative energy and regardless don’t get in the habit of repeating ideas with a minimal tweak to the initial idea. Endorse or add. Only repetition in meetings should be summary of “what we heard” and “next steps” by whomever is leading the meeting at the conclusion, and then only if needed.

The Unaware of Position in the World

  • Scenario: Committee meeting of center members to invite distinguished national guests for coming year’s seminar series. Committee is inclusive of all levels of faculty and trainees in the multi-disciplinary center.
  • Context: Selecting from large slate of speakers. Prioritizing speakers with broad appeal among the center membership and considering whether members have personal connections to potential guests to assist with inviting.
  • Gaffe: Individual under discussion co-investigator with a member of the committee. An instructor with faculty appointment underway opines: “I don’t see why we need to invite Jane Doe. Ovarian cancer is my area and I just gave a talk in our annual symposia that everyone was at.”

Ouch…jealous much? It’s a gift to have your unit be willing to bring in senior colleagues from your research area. Great discussion, new ideas and collaborations flow from these visits. Embrace with open arms. (NB:  as a general strategy it is always better to support choices you like than to shoot down others.)

Truth in humor: Work the W.A.I.T plan as illustrated and you can stay out of the dog house. Print this out, save it to your iPad, consult this process flow and you can be sure you are a welcome and effective participant in meetings. Be heard in the right ways at the right times.




*From the distant past with exact scenarios changed to protect the “talkers”.

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