Words matter. Don’t be Bob.


December 16, 2016 by readlisaread

Alt title: Permission/Forgiveness

Good morning, thank you for coming to this meeting.  Pause for a moment and take note of the picture in your head.  Did you see a big or small rectangular table with people around it, maybe taking notes, and perhaps someone standing by a large chart stand or whiteboard?  Ok, perfect, we’re ready to begin.

Meetings, by their very nature, are cumbersome.  The presence of an agenda is seldom an indicator of how fast or efficiently the meeting will go, as is the presence–or lack of– a designated chairperson.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about meetings. They are the most efficient when everyone is equally interested in the topic. Or, conversely, equally disinterested. Where meetings get bogged down is when an attendee’s prime motivation is just to hear themselves talk.

A case in point (oh you just KNEW I had an example, didn’t you, dear reader). Let me preface this meeting-story with 2 things: The begging forgiveness rather than asking permission trope and the theory of Bob. The former–people have bastardized this platitude to instead think they can say or do whatever they want, as long as they say sorry after. Yeah… no… that’s not quite the intent.  The intent, as I see it, is to show initiative, self direction, courage and creativity, without allowing yourself to be derailed by rules or bound by boundaries. In other words, show what is possible, then shoe-horn it into the structure of the organization. This is particularly relevant to brainstorming ideas, as we were, in a recent meeting.  I love brainstorming, because anything goes, creativity in others sparks creativity in me, and when we can excitedly talk about possibilities, that energy transfers over to the project, and even though your idea of skywriting the door-prize winners names is eventually deemed to be untenable, we can all still be excited about door-prizes, because one time there was talk of hiring a skywriter.

Here’s where Bob comes in.  Bob sits on every committee, ever, and Bob ALWAYS has concerns.  Bob might listen politely to his coworkers, and might even offer a nugget or two of original thought to the process, but essentially Bob is there for one reason: to voice concerns and point out all the reasons something won’t work.  Bob is there to add negative energy.

Recently, the Bob at one of my meetings took it one step further. It wasn’t enough to say the skywriter was impractical, Bob shot it out of the sky, and then peed on the smoldering wreckage.

As annoyed as I was about Bob’s negativity, the problem was a graver one. As soon as Bob launched the land-to-air missile and annihilated my skywriter (you do know that is a metaphor, gentle reader, right?), I noticed a very important shift in the energy of the room.  The little sparks my suggestion had started to ignite all blinked out. No one picked up any of the threads they had seconds earlier responded to when I mentioned them. No one wanted to approach the smoldering, peed-on, burnt out hulk of my idea. But worse, far worse, is no one wanted to “waste time” launching another Zeppelin, or weather balloon or even a drone. No one wanted to blue-sky anything, because Bob might have concerns.

Make no mistake, my friend, Bob is not a power-player.  Bob does not yield sway or even much interest in this particular group. It’s not Bob who has the power, it’s negativity. It sucks the humour and camaraderie out of room faster than blowing out one sad and lonely birthday candle on a half-squished cupcake. All hope for joy is now extinguished. Let’s just finish this meeting before Bob gets his (or her) second wind.

Oh but wait…. Bob does say “I’m sorry to be so negative, I don’t mean to be, at all, even though it sounds negative, I don’t mean it, I just..” (here it comes, gentle reader, here it comes), “…I just have concerns.”.

So now, Bob has completely destroyed the collegial brainstorming atmosphere, killed my idea before it ever got a chance to be refined or considered, but offered a preemptive apology, so that no one can say “Hey, Bob, how about not shooting down anyone’s ideas before they have a chance to be discussed?” Because…. Bob already asked for forgiveness.

Hmmm… and before you ask, yes, Bob could have expressed any concern he had in a positive way. He (or she) could simply have said “I like this skywriting idea, but if that wasn’t possible, what about a singing telegram?” (yes, I was at a meeting in a 1960’s sitcom). Or, Bob could have just kept his concerns to himself until such time as someone said “OK, any concerns about this?”.  Even then, I think Bob should just keep his damn mouth shut unless he has something positive to say, but that is clearly too much to ask….

As the title says, don’t be a Bob.  (You know, I really should have named him Richard instead…. think it through, and have a chuckle on me… and be glad if there are no Bobs in your organization).


  1. Janyse says:

    You’re still mad. It’s important when you are chairing a meeting that you show some leadership skills. There’s always a bob in dynamics….sometimes called passive aggressive cause he doesn’t do anything but be concerned even when you have a project he sabotages the energy.
    You need to say here’s an idea….lets brainstorm, focus on the positive…later after we hear of another person’s idea we can go back and look at concerns or follow each idea through.
    When Bob starts again with”a concern” say, Bob, or to anyone I would appreciate if you do have a concern to leave it until we are finished brainstorming and inspiring each other. If Bob starts in again tell Bob I’M going to stop you Bob from crushing the energy. However, Bob when you have something positive to add, Bob lets hear it. and smile and look directly at him.
    Janyse Hrrynkow, MA CCC Leadership trainer

  2. readlisaread says:

    Janyse! Thank you and I love this comment. I wasn’t chairing the meeting, otherwise I might have felt a little more able to confront the issue, but nonetheless, you are correct, and I will try to remember your suggestion next time… for there WILL be a next time, Bob is nothing if not reliable! Thanks for reading!

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