In a meeting with about 10 minutes left, the other person says:
- I’ve decided to quit.
- I was really upset about something that happened last week.
- I’m leaving my partner.
- This will be our last meeting.
- My boss did something wildly inappropriate.
- I’m going to rehab tomorrow.
I am just another casualty of the ‘Dump & Run’ – the very common phenomenon that happens when the other person in the meeting decides to share a full-meeting-worthy topic in their last few minutes. I’ve experienced this many times but that doesn’t make it any easier. It is frustrating for both of us. The result? I usually postpone the issue or try to rush some resolution in record time. Neither option is great.
Why do people do this?
Time Management Issues: Sometimes people have a few items to cover. If they have 2 minor issues and 1 major issue to talk about, they may think that it’s better to get the smaller ones out of the way before tackling the big one. But if the minor issues take up the majority of the time they have little choice but to bring up the larger issues at the end. It would have been better just to start with the major issue. If there is a concern that the minor issues won’t get adequate air time, sharing an outline of the topics that need to be covered is a decent compromise that allows the time in the meeting to be managed well by the participants. “I’ve got a couple small issues to talk about and one big concern. I’d like to talk about the large concern and come back to the smaller issues if there is still time.”
Passive Issues: Sometimes a pattern will develop where one person draws out the other. One of you (usually me) pokes around during the meeting with questions about people and projects while what needs to be discussed are budget cuts! Don’t be afraid to set the agenda. The best meetings are collaborative – you tell the other person what you want/need to talk about. Waiting for someone else to finally ask the right question is a waste of everyone’s valuable time.
Reluctance: Most ‘Dump & Run’ issues include things that are uncomfortable to talk about. It’s human nature to avoid pain, so it really isn’t all that surprising that some people bring up difficult material at the last possible moment. The problem is, by dumping and running the full benefit of bringing up the issue in the first place is lost. The pain may be avoided – but so the benefit of talking about the issue. Learning to tolerate the discomfort of vulnerability and strong emotion is useful in developing a more authentic and helpful relationship.
Testing: Whether conscious or unconscious, it seems some ‘Dump & Run’ topics are a test of boundaries. Sometime a person want to know if their issue is or they are important enough for you to give extra time to it/them. It is more straightforward but much harder to simply ask that question.
Slipped My Mind: Sometimes the issue really doesn’t occur until the last minute. It’s confusing why it wasn’t thought about earlier. It’s not all that uncommon for people to hold back emotionally charged material, but it’s definitely worth exploring. But that is a whole other topic that will require a whole other meeting.
Back to my response to ‘Dump & Run’ issues. I find that I have two choices: end the meeting as planned, adhering to the agreed-upon boundary of time, or scrap the rules and discuss the new material, and losing whatever we both had planned to do with the following segment of time.
How I respond often depends on the severity of the issue. If someone’s well-being is hanging in the balance I’ll try to take the time to discuss things. Or – I’ll need to end the meeting out of respect for everyone’s time, and the already-agreed-upon boundary. I’ll offer an additional meeting or call later in the week, time permitting, but this meeting has to end. While it might seem harsh, the jolt of ending as planned, even though it feels abrupt, can help prevent future ‘Dump & Runs.’