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From time to time when I ask questions about the task, I get an answer - "we talked about it in the meeting", "we talked about this before" or similar and only then get an answer.

Let's talk about the meeting situation.

The problem is - this makes me annoying to ask questions. But to do a task, I first need to understand well what I need to do.

In the meetings, they are talking fast about things and in words which are not the main thing.

Sometimes when we have to vote on how many points this will have. I say I did not understand well what needed to be done.

The coworker says, what did you not understand? I sometimes do not understand practically everything. Sometimes part of the thing.

But when they explain to me exactly, then I do understand better. For example, when I ask - how many Rest resources will we need for this? I got answers like - 1 for creating, 1 for editing, and one for fetch. Simple crud, no complex logic. Then it becomes much clearer. But not always it is simple.

But I mean even about simple things, at first, they often talk in a way that might be difficult or not clear. So when the story is more complex, and they cannot talk about simple things instantly in an understandable way, then it gets worse with a complex story.

Also, meetings happen in English, not my native language. But for the other attendees, it is not a problem, and I think I know English well enough also as you can see from my post. Just everything goes too fast. Of course, when they understand, it does not look too fast for them.

And the product owner and his team do not have too much time, so that's why they are doing it fast.

I get the answers when I ask after a meeting, but I hate that they treat me as bad by saying "we talked in a meeting". Like I am not listening.

Yea, I am worse if I do not understand while they do but it is how it is. We need to deal with it. I think the most important is that I understand at all after I talk again.

Today when I got this "we talked about this in meeting", I simply said how it was - "we talk about a lot of things in meeting and I am not able to pay attention to everything" and wrote a smile. I am not sure if it could be perceived as passive-aggressive, but it's annoying, and I do not want to get into war with colleagues. I want to have friendly conversations.

So what can you advise? How can I improve my understanding in meetings?

And why do they need to say that "we talked in the meeting"? I am not asking "did we talk about this in the meeting?", I am asking "how is it to be done?".

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    I don't mean to be rude but your English does still need some work. That may be part of the problem.
    – WalkerDev
    Feb 3, 2017 at 20:37
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    @UpAllNight: WCNL's grammar is imperfect, it's true. But his/her problem post is nevertheless completely understandable. The nitpicky parts of grammar are rarely essential to communication --- English is a highly redundant language.
    – MMacD
    Feb 3, 2017 at 20:56
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    @UpAllNight writing English which appears fluent/native is far more difficult than speaking English at that level, too.
    – enderland
    Feb 3, 2017 at 23:19
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    @UpAllNight I am a non-native English speaker, but I find his English completely understandable. I don't think English is the problem here. His English sounds good enough to get by in a professional work environment, unless of course, he is working as a Professor of English or something of that sort.
    – Masked Man
    Feb 4, 2017 at 0:50
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    @MaskedMan While it's quite comprehensible to a native speaker, it's quite limited in vocabulary, complex sentence structures, and idiomatic expressions. As an FSL teacher, I would expect this person to have difficulty understanding everything at a meeting where native speakers speak at a normal pace using business and technical jargon. Of course, ultimately that's not the problem, because if there is any deficiency then the team ought to compensate in order to keep functioning. Sep 1, 2022 at 11:59

6 Answers 6

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You have at least three different issues.

One is that you don't always understand what's happening in the meeting, to the extent that you don't even realize you don't understand until later. The only cure for this is to admit you don't understand and to ask questions, which you are doing at least part of the time. Keep doing that.

The second is that when you go to people later with questions, they say "this was covered in the meeting." I don't know what they expect that response to achieve. Like you're going to suddenly understand now that you've been reminded? However, your answer, "we talk about lot of things in meeting and I am not able to pay attention to everything" is terrible. You are expected to pay attention to everything. You are expected to take as many notes as needed. The correct response would be "I know, and I'm sorry, but I did not get all the information I needed." You can talk to them about whether it's better to slow down the meeting by asking and asking until you understand, or wait and do it one on one, and that can be the plan going forward. For this item, you still need your answer.

Your third problem is that your coworkers are starting to think less of you for not following at the pace they run the meetings at. Whether it's English issues, being slow to process, or just zoning out and not listening doesn't really matter - it's starting to affect them and they don't like it. You really need to fix this if you want to keep working there. So don't make it a joke. Make it something you are working on. I find that when I don't understand, I usually have a number of questions I need to ask that are consistent - in your example, how many rest verbs will you need. Or whether this will mean changes to some other part of the system such as a report or a summary screen. Take some time to think about the questions you need the answers to every time, and bring a note to the meeting with those questions. When a topic is raised, look at the list and ask yourself if you have heard the answers to them all. If not, ask. Try not to say "I don't understand" since that puts all the work on the other person to explain. Instead, just ask your question. In this way you won't discover later that you're missing key information. And of course, you must pay attention and listen carefully during the entire meeting. Take notes. Be engaged. Don't assume you can just go ask somebody afterwards.

There may still be time to turn this around. You will have to work hard, and quickly. Good luck!

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    Just saying the word 'sorry' like that at the start of a sentence isn't humiliating at all in English speaking cultures. It is little more than a meaningless word to say "i am about to say something". And just butting in with "I am not following" might come across as a bit aggressive, depending on the circumstances. I would guess that the use of "sorry" in English is very different to the nearest equivalent in your native language.
    – PhillS
    Feb 4, 2017 at 10:19
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    The literal meaning is "I apologize that I am unable to understand you even though you have been utterly clear" but that is not what it really means. It really means "alert, what I am about to say involves a disagreement". It is not really an apology to say "sorry, I am not following." Should you ever need to apologize for a lack of understanding you would not simply say "sorry" you would say "I apologize [or regret] that I didn't understand that at the time." But if you take all this advice and just omit the word "sorry", I still think you may be able to improve your situation. Feb 4, 2017 at 13:55
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    Native English speakers have a range of "excuse me?" "I beg your pardon?" "Sorry, what?" and so on that are downright aggressive and can literally be used to start a fight. It all depends on tone. But in this case I was recommending an apology-type sorry because they have already complained "we covered this in the meeting" and this word acknowledges that before moving on to the fact you still need the information. Feb 4, 2017 at 13:57
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    There is a difference between a meeting "estimate this" "sorry, I need to know xyz first" and later "we covered that in the meeting!" "sorry, I didn't get all I needed there." The first is not an apology; the second is. In the meeting, just ask. Later, when people complain about you asking, apologize, but still ask. Feb 6, 2017 at 15:52
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    This is just personal opinion/experience but I have much less issues with people interrupting a discussion to ask for more info than with people coming with questions after a discussion/meeting. During the meeting it shows the person asking is listening and trying to understand while questions after a meeting could give the impression that you were not actively listening and only afterwards try to understand. And if people do have issues with you interrupting or asking questions, they have no option to tell you that it was 'talked about in the meeting' if they didn't allow your questions then.
    – Blub
    Sep 8, 2022 at 9:09
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The key to understand meetings is to take notes. If you take bullet point style notes it enables you to break down the information into higher level detail.

Also don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something. There's no such thing as a stupid question. The hosts are there to provide high level understanding no matter what the topic.

If the meeting was done via a PowerPoint maybe ask for the slides. Be more proactive and get more involved. I find this the best method to understand fully what's happening and also shows your interest.

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  • And taking notes by hand on paper will help you retain more than typing notes. Taking notes is a skill you should have perfected in school but thanks to many teachers providing the slide decks from Power Point, I don't think it is practiced as much as it used to be when there were no electronic notes available.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 23, 2017 at 22:16
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Propose to your management that you have an idea to improve communication and reduce time wasted in unnecessary meetings (i.e. meetings to repeat what was said in a previous meeting), and that idea is that every meeting should have an official scribe. The scribe is the person who is responsible for taking notes in the meeting. This person will not write down everything that is said, but only the important highlights.

Meeting notes should follow a common template, so that every meeting's notes contain the same type of information. The notes should be posted on an internal Wiki/Sharepoint/other document/information sharing site.

The title of the Wiki page / document should include the following:

  • Date of the meeting
  • Brief description of purpose of meeting (50 characters or less)

The body of the meeting notes should include:

  • List of attendees
  • Topics that were covered
  • Decisions that were made
  • Open issues that were brought up
  • Action items that were identified, including who is assigned to each

These notes will be helpful for everyone, not just you. They will help your team remember what was discussed, what was decided, and what needs to be done.

The scribe should be a rotating position; that is, the same person shouldn't get stuck being the scribe all the time. When you make the proposal, volunteer to be the scribe for the first meeting. That way, you can feel free to interrupt (gently) if you need time to write down a highlight or decision.

At the end of the meeting, if there is time, read your notes back to the group. After you have typed up your notes, distribute a link to all those who were invited, regardless of whether they attended, plus any attendees who were not invited.

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  • +1 I support a six sigma-like meeting where meeting minutes are written up and posted on our company sharepoint shortly after the meeting. It makes it disgustingly easy to weed out the actual action items as opposed to what's simply filler, even if you didn't attend.
    – CKM
    Mar 23, 2017 at 22:13
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I have had the same problem.

To help me with the issue, I have established what I must know in advance and I also have recorded all my meetings. Finally I explain to people I may have additional questions affer diggesting the content. I prefer this way instead of interrupting my colleagues all the time.

To put it in a context, I work as business analyst and meetings are a major part of my work. People around me know i am not a native speaker, so they understand why I am applying these things.

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    how they reacted when you asked them if you can record? I am afraid of some bad reaction. People like privacy, like if boss would ask if he can watch the workers monitor all day, I believe worker would not like that. Feb 4, 2017 at 7:31
  • Also I see a problem that I might not easily find the time of the recording where was talked about specific thing. I think it would be must faster to ask a coworker who understood. But if what they want is to not help me, then maybe the only option is to waste more time but do it myself. Feb 4, 2017 at 7:43
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    Most people wouldn't mind you recording a meeting, so long as you make the reason clear. If they object, just don't do it. Also, to find when things were talked about: when you change topic during the meeting, tap your recording device a few times and introduce the topic. After the meeting, open the recording in Audacity - you should see some very obvious volume spikes where you tapped the device, which you can skip straight to. Mar 24, 2017 at 21:53
  • You mention it would be much faster for you to ask a coworker instead of looking for it in a recording. And while this is true for you, this is not true for that coworker. He would need to switch context of what he is working on to help you with your issue. Once or twice this should not be a big issue but it could get annoying or time consuming quickly. Especially if a recording would indeed be OK and you could look for things yourself. Generally meetings should be about work so people should not object to being recorded, though there are always exceptions.
    – Blub
    Sep 8, 2022 at 9:00
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One step is going to your manager and tell him that sometimes you have problems with the speed of talk in a meeting. I suppose it would help if people slowed down a bit. If you have meetings with people in different locations that phone in, sometimes sound quality is awful and improving that will improve your (and other people's) understanding. And I'll just duplicate Bruno's excellent advice to record the meetings so you can listen once more.

You can practice listening - with audio books, or just TV. Your understanding will be getting better just by listening a lot, with little effort. You might check if your TV can display subtitles; listening and reading at the same time will probably improve your understanding.

You might also have your hearing checked, just in case - some people can't hear well, and that's bad enough in your native language, and worse when people talk in a different language than your own. If that's the problem, that can be easily fixed, and many people don't know about it.

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  • recording meeting - you mean record the audio? I thought about this. But I guess people might not like to be recorded, maybe they could not talk very free. Like all their mistakes would be recorded. And I feel bit weird doing it, because nobody needs it, why I have to be special. Btw I do practice listening - I listen audio books from time to time, radio podcasts, also have skype friends from other countries and we talk in english by calling. So thats why I thought its not a big problem. At least with skype friend, in case I do not understand smth, I just ask, and he explains. Feb 4, 2017 at 7:26
  • Recording is often illegal without permission.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 23, 2017 at 22:11
  • I guess it depends on whether these meetings are in-person or virtual, but when I'm on technical calls via Teams, Webex or similar, we often record them for later reference. It's policy that we request permission before hitting record and anyone who does not want recorded is free to drop off. Sep 7, 2022 at 13:23
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Based on your question, your English does need an improvement.

First you need to think hard about what the problems are and what are the solutions.

In general, try to prepare for the meetings. Try to be more active on the meetings. Volunteer to write the meeting summary.

Here's few tips:

  1. Don't be afraid to ask when you don't understand, but ask constructive questions. "I did not understand" is not helpful. "Do I understand correctly that we need to ..." is way better.
  2. If meetings are long, its OK to ask for a break. If you are afraid it sounds bad, try "Can we take a little break? I would like to think about this a bit." or "I wish to review my notes". After you are done discussing some part, try to make (or at least ask for) so called "action points". If not applicable, try to make a short summary.
  3. If there is too many topics, try to ask the organizer to split the meeting. If there is one topic, but complicated, simply say you need to think about that / discuss it with the team and you will get back to them.
  4. Know your limits. When somebody is about to explain something new to me, I always say "Ok, can we do it 30 minutes at the time? After that, I am pretty much braindead."
  5. Make notes during the meeting. For me, it helps to remember, even knowing I won't ever read em again (and it must be "on paper").
  6. If you still don't understand, but feel bad to bring it up, call your colleague right after the meeting. Make sure it doesn't happen often.

One of my favorite sayings: "Understanding the problem is half the solution."


The reactions you are describing suggest you are not meeting the expectations. E.g. this is something I would only say to somebody in a very critical way, expecting some kind of explanation. Let them help you. When somebody says "We talked about this in last meeting", try to explain what and why did you not understand. You shall come to some conclusion soon enough. Perhaps they talk too quickly and you are behind with translations, perhaps you are inexperienced in that area and they talk on too high level for you, maybe they use business-vocabulary you are not familiar with. At the very least, you will get some hard truth, but way more likely you are to get some sympathetic answer and ppl will be more inclined to help you.

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  • There is good advice here. I would add: be clear on the purpose of the meeting. It sounds like this is a planning meeting, perhaps with a stakeholder or senior person from another team. In this context, rapid communication with jargon may be expected. Likewise, more meticulous follow up questions with other team members is reasonable after the meeting.
    – Adam Burke
    Sep 8, 2022 at 4:58

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