The Art of Running an External Meeting | THE POLITICUS

The Art of Running an External Meeting

After some time working within the bureaucracy, if you are up to it and you have shown the necessary aptitude, your supervisor may let you attend or even run meetings with external stakeholders. These may be other departments, members of the public, or private sector companies. As this involves dealing with stakeholders in person, you should ensure that you are ready for this sometimes stressful, but often enjoyable, task.

If you have followed proper procedure, you will have done all in your power to avoid meeting the external client in person, let all of their phone calls go to a message bank, and so carefully prepared them for a meeting. Their need for a government approval or advice with regard to government policy will have made their desire for this meeting almost painful. Bearing this in mind, it is important that you follow the correct rules. They will ensure a good result and hopefully discourage people from ever wanting to meet with you again.

Rule 1

Remain calm and polite at all times.

A polite and calm manner will give the ‘client’ nobody to immediately blame and no avenue to release their frustration, guaranteeing that their internal pressure will start to build. There is nothing more infuriating than a government official showing complete disinterest in the act of refusing a request. If you are experienced, you can make it very unclear whether you are refusing their application or not by carefully increasing the amount of government jargon you use. This adds to the tension.

Rule 2

Follow the appropriate government policy to the letter, even if makes no common sense to enforce this policy. In fact, especially if it makes no sense, as this will further increase frustration levels in the ‘client’.

Rule 3

The third rule is to smile in a condescending way as you explain to them all the relevant red tape that they will need to overcome. At the same time you should infer that they really should have done their homework before they came into the meeting and that they are inconsiderately wasting your time. Clearly lay out the likely, and lengthy, delays that will occur before there is any prospect of a decision being made by government. They will leave unsatisfied, probably fuming at the arcane inefficiency of government and will not want to return for another meeting. This is a job well done.

Advanced tactics

These are the basic rules, however, advanced practitioners can apply some further techniques to magnify the frustration and desperation experienced by the client.

A careful sequencing of the order in which you inform the client of relevant policies can lead to initial hope of a relatively straightforward and productive meeting. You can then drop a bombshell that completely kills any hope of success in the near future, just as the client is basking in the warm glow of an easy process. Whoever heard of an easy and straightforward government process?

There may also be times when you can send the client off on their way, leaving them feeling happy that everything is running smoothly, when in fact you know that another department involved has polices that directly contradict yours and has experienced procrastinators of its own that will stymie any progress and significantly delay any approvals or licenses required.

Finally, there is the double-team approach. This is where the junior member of the team leads the client to believe that sensible compromises can be made and that a successful outcome can be achieved. Following this, the senior, more experienced officer then comes in and completely refuses to allow any compromise at all, dooming the project to failure, or at least to lengthy delays and a protracted approvals process.

Things to look out for as signs of the success of your approach include:

1. Veins on client’s forehead begin to bulge.

2. Red tinges appear on client’s neck and tie is loosened.

3. Client’s eyes become a little wild and have a staring quality

4. Tension appears in the voice

5. Voice is raised

6. Voice becomes high-pitched and hysterical

7. Client is reduced to tears and pleading for help

8. Client threatens, or carries out, physical violence

9. Client reduced to sobbing mess, more pleading

10. Complete mental collapse, gibbering, head-butting wall

When you can reduce a member of the public or an industry representative to a 10th level response, you know that you have graduated to the very top tier of government, and will have very few clients requesting a meeting with you in the future as word spreads about your skills.

George Fripley is the author of You Can't Polish A Turd - The Civil Servant's Manual and the soon to be published Dregs of History. He should probably be ignored!