Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
WIilliam Shakespeare, King Lear
“I’m conscious of time” is one of those business clichés, which has been scrubbed of its meaning through overuse. We hear it at the end of meetings, presentations and conference calls. It signals the closing and is an acceptable interruption. The meaning has been so wrung out of it that it can be used to mean everything and nothing. What meaning do you make, when you hear this phrase?
What do you mean, if you say “I’m conscious of time…” Are you conscious of time as a meeting boundary that was set in advance, or are you conscious of the time of day and what that means for you or your distant colleagues on the conference call? Do you use it to close down an awkward conversation or conclude a more awkward silence? Do you mean:
- This is the end of the meeting. I want to leave this meeting.
- I am leaving now and don’t have time to wait for a pause in the conversation to say goodbye.
- There is a good reason why I have been looking at my device.
- I am bored. I don’t want to be lectured on the same old topic.
- I want to avoid a difficult conversation. Let’s avoid it together.
- I have lost track of time, or I failed to keep time and I am now correcting myself. It’s time I learnt to manage a meeting, use a clock, stop double booking or manage my schedule better.
- I think I am missing out on something happening elsewhere. I am leaving now to look for it.
- I know what I am going to do next. I am not interested to hear what others think.
- This meeting room puts me to sleep or is too cold.
- This meeting is petering out as we just use up the allotted time talking about unnecessary or off-task stuff.
- I have neglected to follow the agenda or we have enjoyed talking so much, that now we do not have sufficient time to get the meeting back on-track and achieve the objective, so I am ending it now.
- As nobody is listening or participating we are wasting our time.
- I didn’t have time to prepare for this meeting, so I am not ready to support the proposal. I have talked long enough about the two options to avoid saying what I think and now I can see the end of the meeting is close.
- I want to avoid making a decision now, so let’s finish. We have been having this meeting for weeks now and never get anywhere so….
- You interrupted me. Now I am interrupting you for a good reason, which you cannot argue with: the clock.
- I want to use the bathroom, smoke, get to the front of the lunch queue, charge my phone, or I am falling asleep and I don't want to miss what is said.
- I can see the next meeting attendees hovering outside the glass wall and I just realized that I booked the room for half an hour less than the meeting.
- I have finished pulling apart my Styrofoam cup, so I am leaving.
- I want to get a coffee. The caterer is booked to serve lunch now. The lunch is getting cold.
I have heard them all in my mind’s ear. What could you be saying instead?
So. Now. I’m conscious of time…
We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time.