Skip to main content

How Presidential Debates Are Like Staff Meetings

Or are staff meetings like presidential debates? It's sort of a chicken-vs.-egg question, but there are a few similarities between your average, televised presidential debate and the regularly-scheduled office meeting. Let's adjust our podiums to the right height and throw out a few zingers, shall we?

First, let me say that I get very excited for presidential debates. Always have. The traditions. The suspense. The annoying cable news countdown clocks. The monotone moderator explaining the rules. The first firm handshake. The stumbles, the fumbles, and, yes, the zingers. The post-game punditry wrap-up. It could be a late night. Hope you don't have an 8 a.m. status update meeting tomorrow.

Speaking of meetings, have you ever noticed how everyone in your department brings his or her own "personality" to staff meetings, and it might be a slightly more enhanced personality than they exhibit the rest of the time? Everyone takes on a role in a staff meeting that is not unlike some of the candidates we've watched during past presidential debates. Without further delay, here are 13 personalities you might encounter in the average office meeting:

The Stick To Your Misfired Guns Guy. What did you just say? Really? You know that what your co-worker just said is not correct, but he's standing by his "facts" anyway, and he's not about to budge for anyone. In his world 2 + 2 can add up to 5. It's like President Gerald Ford during the 1976 debate talking about Poland, which was, no matter what Mr. Ford said, definitely in the Russian sphere of influence.

The Petulant Participant. This co-worker is irritable and cantankerous and just seems about ready to explode at any moment. Don't look at "that one" the wrong way across the conference room table or he might get in your face. Think Sen. John McCain during the 2008 debates.

The Exasperated Sigher. This co-worker speaks through gestures while someone else is talking. He sighs, rolls his eyes, shakes his head, grunts, offers a sarcastic smile. Whatever you're saying, he simply doesn't agree. But he can't wait for his turn to talk to voice his displeasure with your opinion. Think Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 debate. One word: Lockbox.

The Uniformed Ingenue. This green-behind-the-ears co-worker is perky, cute, and very opinionated. Too bad everything that comes out of her mouth sounds so ill-informed, right? She reminds you of the classmate in high school or college who didn't read the material and then got called on in class. Ouch. Sometimes, she even winks at you while formulating her shaky responses. Oy, vey. Three words: Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Clockwatcher. This employee is impatient and wonders how much time is left on the clock because he or she has other things to do. Can we flash the wrap-it-up box already? Hey, we're talking about important stuff here! It's all too reminiscent of President George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch during the 1992 debate. Time's up!

The Emotionless Responder. This co-worker can answer the touchiest, most debatable questions with a detached, matter-of-fact response. While objectivity and emotional distance have their advantages when debating hot topics, being a little too cool under the collar can also make other employees wonder whether or not this co-worker has a passionate fire in the belly. Or a heart, in some cases. It's sort of like Gov. Michael Dukakis' "death penalty" moment during the 1988 presidential debate.

The Friendly Put Down Artist. This co-worker always has a witty or semi-sharp comeback but is friendly and approachable enough to get away with it. Zing! You've just been hit by another one of her memorable lines. In fact, what she says in ten words or less may be the only thing people remember long after the meeting is over. There she goes again! Think Ronald Reagan debating a dour Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The Cool Guy. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but his back-slappy-happy, frat-boy demeanor makes him your leading office candidate for a round of beers and nacho chips at the local pub any day of the week. Whether or not you agree with him, he'd be cool to hang with after work. It's happy hour, who's buying? This guy is President George W. Bush from the 2000 debate.

The Gray Hair With Gravitas. He speaks from on high and people stop to listen, because he sounds like the voice of authority on any issue. He's well spoken, classy, graceful, thoughtful. You're no Jack Kennedy, but you want to be like him when you grow up. Think Sen. Lloyd Bentsen during the 1988 vice presidential debate.

The Emotionalist. This employee is engaging and thoughtful, but can get emotional at unexpected moments. He or she is a very passionate, lively person who can be making some great points when suddenly the voice shakes, the lower lip quivers, there's a tear in the eye, and all of the sudden co-workers are offering up Kleenex. Think Vice President Joe Biden during the 2008 vice presidential debate. (Although Mr. Biden did have a very good reason for getting choked up.)

The Engaging Statistician. This is the numbers guy (or gal). He or she can toss off facts and figures with supreme ease, but is also blessed with the ability to make them sound interesting. You never seem to fall asleep during his PowerPoint presentations because he's very good at explaining things in layman's terms. He is President Bill Clinton during the, well, take your pick of any moment during the 1992 and 1996 presidential debates. He's that good. This guy can talk. And talk. The Clockwatcher is sure to get impatient.

The Overtalker. Okay, so what's your opinion? Just get to the point already! This is exactly what you would like to say to the office overtalker, the employee who see-saws, rambles, confuses the subject at hand with pointless peripheral issues and leaves you more confused than when you walked into the meeting. "Let me be clear" is not in this guy's lexicon. The funny thing is, you were all for this meeting before you were against it. Think Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential debate.

The Curmudgeon. Arrrg, get off my lawn! You can just imagine this employee saying this at home, can't you? Management wants to move everyone to smartphones and lose the landlines but this curmudgeonly employee isn't having it. It's a constant struggle getting this stalwart employee to cross that bridge to the 21st Century. In fact, this co-worker hasn't met a new idea he's liked since 1996, the year Sen. Bob Dole reminded us of our grumpy grandpa complaining how he can't see the game because the grandkids are standing right in front of the teevee. You kids make a better door than a window, and can you be quiet? His hearing aid doesn't go up to 11. (Don't worry, Sen. Dole. We still love you like a grandpa.)

What will happen tonight? Who will win, who will lose, what will we remember about this debate ten years from now? I don't know, but I'm sure both President Obama and Gov. Romney will occasionally remind me of past co-workers.


Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…