Are You on Middle Class Standard Time?

Have you ever heard meeting leaders say anything like this?

“As you can see, we’re packing a lot in today”

“We’re going to have a working lunch today to make sure we get through everything”

“Wow! We’re going to cover so much ground today – ten really important agenda items in just ninety minutes”

“I know we’re all eager for a break, but I’m going to ask that you hang in there, we’re almost done”

“We’re running a little behind and I appreciate you all helping us move along since we’re trying to pack-in a lot of important material”

If so, you may have some experience being on Middle Class Standard Time (MST). Under MST, all good ideas must fit somehow in any given timeframe. It’s elastic – you need to cover six conversation topics, for example, and they can shrink or expand to fill as much or as little time as you have. It doesn’t matter if you only have three hours in which to fit what should be five hours of material. For that reason MST is also known as Magician Standard Time. Abracadabra! We have all the time we need. (But no, we can’t do fewer things in that time.)

MST often results in rushed, over-packed workshops, conferences and meetings that leave participants little breathing room to digest concepts, to say nothing of social time. People who consciously operate on MST privilege their agenda (written or unwritten) over the wellbeing of the group. I believe most of this can be chocked-up to the influence of professional middle class meeting culture.


Middle Class Values

“Banking” Education: Since middle class culture highly values didactic learning and passive participation, the thinking seems to be, “As long as we’re sitting here, we’re getting something of value”

Hierarchy: As middle class meeting culture is hierarchical, the participants may be overwhelmed or checked-out, but the facilitators often hold themselves accountable to “higher-ups” or previously set goals rather than those present – which would be the democratic thing to do

Workaholism: Because of our high value on working long hours at professional jobs, we middle class US’ers are highly susceptible to work addiction – even in volunteer work – which can show up as “packing in” more than we can physically handle

Formal Relationships: Middle class culture values professional titles and formal work-time, and marginalizes informal relationships, so middle class people often miss the importance of having long breaks and social time

Conflict Avoidance: If we say “yes” to everyone’s ideas, we won’t have to do as much sorting for our priorities, which could result in conflict and hurt feelings. Middle class people generally avoid open conflict

To be clear: You don’t need to be middle class to enforce Middle Class Standard Time, and middle class people don’t always operate on it. Cultural flavors of MST vary by country and region – I’m writing from the US perspective, and in many countries middle class values emphasize informal relationships far more than here, for instance.


Consequences of MST

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