You asked everyone to join you for a meeting at 4.30pm.
“It will only last half an hour”, you said.
But it’s now 5pm, and it’s quite clear that the report you wanted everyone to read and comment on needs more time than you’d anticipated.
Perhaps, somewhere, you knew half an hour was way too optimistic. And you were worried that if you were honest about the time it would take, nobody would come.
But now the meeting has gone on way beyond the time you’d promised.
What do you do to address this? Many people, it would seem, do nothing. The meeting’s not finished, nobody seems to have left, and in any case, you all chose to be there, didn’t you?
It’s embarrassing to own up to your miscalculation (or your deliberate manipulation). And so you save yourself from this by carrying on, as if nothing significant has happened.
But you can be sure of something: the unremarked passing of your deadline is significant. You have broken a promise. And many of your participants, as embarrassed as you are to bring up that this is not what they agreed to, have checked out, mentally and emotionally, already.
By continuing a meeting beyond its agreed time, and by keeping silent about it, you’re making an unspoken request of your co-participants. “Please stay” (a request without a speaker, which you can read more about here).
And because your request is unspoken, you’re making it much harder, perhaps deliberately, for them to say no. After all, if you don’t ask, you save yourself the possibility of finding out they had better things to do than stay around.
It’s a small benefit (you feel momentarily better) with a huge cost because you’re creating the ideal conditions for resentment and resignation to grow. And a roomful of people who can hardly be expected to be engaged now, or in the future, in what you said was urgent, important work.