I have spent the last 2.5 days in the midlands of Ireland in a 4 star hotel where, in a conference centre, I have been meeting a work client.
I am well aware that what I am going to describe is not actually traumatic in any real sense but I am utterly exhausted by my exertions over the last 3 days – even though nothing was required of me save my charming self and good humour.
We drove down at lunchtime in the midst of a snowstorm – or the Irish equivalent of such – it more resembled an icy, sludgy, rainy slush. We were late. We arrived into the meeting room, loudly apologetic and blaming the weather – the actual real reason for our lateness being the fact that we departed the office at the time the meeting was starting.
We took our seats (with me casting a longing eye at the coffee urn – ‘I’ll get to you’ I thought to myself).
I tuned in to the speaker and my heart sank. He was talking about an ‘extraordinary alliance’. When the first expression you hear is corporate overkill then it sort of sets the expectation for the rest of the event. Bang, bang, bang. One zinger followed another – ‘flawless execution’ – except they weren’t talking about Henry VIII’s wives, ‘stretch goals’ – extra work; ‘learnings’ – when did the word ‘lessons’ go out of fashion? And most sinister of all ‘synergies’. Now I know that synergy is a fairly innocuous word with no dastardly meaning, but I have never heard it in use outside a corporate context – it’s a feelgood buzz word with no practical meaning. And it makes my skin crawl.
Now people need to understand that I am not lazy by nature at work. I perform the tasks assigned to me in the most thorough and efficient manner that I can. But there is no ‘blue-sky thinking’ for me. I my thoughts always remain resolutely inside my boxy head – unless I can give a practical suggestion for an improvement. But corporate speak has long been a bug bear of mine. I equate with standing up on a podium in a crowded hall and realising that you are stark naked. It confuses and upsets me.
Under no circumstances are you allowed to vocalise this unease as that identifies you as a troublemaker – or worse still – not a team player.
Thankfully my distaste for corporate shenanigans hasn’t impeded my dizzying rise to the middle.
What could I do in this situation though – I had no choice but to attend.
That evening there was a fancy meal in the hotel restaurant which I hoped would b more pleasant – the hotel being of the swishy 4 star kind, I knew that the food, at least would be tasty. Before the dinner however we had to attend a meeting to discuss a presentation to be given the following day that would require our input.
It would only take 20 minutes and then we could eat. The obvious location for the meeting was the restaurant. The people at the table beside us were seated 3 minutes after we were. Our discussion began. After 30 minutes we were deep in discussion while table next door’s starters arrived. After an hour no conclusions had been reached, while I salivated at the main courses being brought to our neighbours. Another half hour passed and I was getting borderline delirious with hunger and resentment and felt like screaming ‘Shut the fucking fuck up, why can’t we eat. Whose bright idea was it to have a meeting in a restaurant? Aren’t you HUNGRY?’
I didn’t of course as I am a professional to the tips of my toes. I was asked a question to which I hadn’t been listening to? I panicked. What should I say? I took a chance and said ‘Well it’s hard to say with 100% certainly but I tend to agree with your conclusion’. That went down well – I really hope I haven’t volunteered to do some hideous weekly report.
Eventually the waitress told us that the kitchen would be closing in 3o minutes and we needed to order. The laptops were shut. The others looked cheerful and congratulated themselves on their productivity. I am ashamed to say that murder was in my famished heart. The food was good when it finally came. Then again a bowl of week old brussels sprouts would have tasted great at that stage.
The next day’s meetings were more of the same – the synergies were exploding all over the place. The break out sessions erupted in collaborative alliances. It was inspirational. I spent much the day smiling, and nodding, and saying ‘I agree’,and rating the attendees in terms of whom I would like to be intimate with. This is a habit of mine at boring work meeting. I look super-engaged but I internally I am debating the attractiveness of the attendees. Still waters run shallow and all that.
That evening was a meal in a castle – no laptops involved this time. The food was great – as expected. The conversations less so. Which again is expected. THese are colleagues and customers – all I really have in common with them is work, so it’s not like you can get too personal with them.
More of the same today.
I arrived in Dublin at 4pm, debated with myself for about 2 seconds on whether I should go into the office. In the end I decided against it.
It might break the magic.