taking notes/minutes (Brits vs- Americans)

Subject: taking notes/minutes (Brits vs- Americans)
From: Michael Andrew Uhl <mikeuhl -at- MINDSPRING -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 21:55:13 -0400

Esteemed Colleagues:

When I was a Glaxo (now Glaxo Wellcome), I was assigned to take minutes at
senior management meetings. I worked in the Medical Data Sciences Department,
part of the group that processed and analyzed data from clinical trials. The
minutes were a big deal, for legal reasons and as a management tool. They had
tried using admins in the past but found they needed someone with better
writing skills, a better understanding of the pharmaceutical industry, better
science knowledge, and someone who was discreet and knew what to record and
what not to record.

I remember being asked to compose a document in real time during a meeting with
the audience acting as the writers and I as the editor. I sweated a lot, but
they were very impressed that I had had a thesaurus in my head and enough
confidence to remain so--apparently--cool while a dozen different people tried
to "improve" my writing.

Anyway, Glaxo being a multinational based in the U.K., I attended video
teleconferences with colleagues across the pond. Whereas the Yanks loved to
have me take minutes and thus relieve themselves of the burden, the Brits were
much more possessive. They saw the minutes as Wendy does (see below), as having
some control, or "spin", on the meeting. We encountered a bit of culture shock.
On our side, they continued to have me take unofficial minutes, sitting me off
camera in the corner of the room, so as not to offend our British colleagues.

I got pretty darned good at minute-taking...

Michael Andrew Uhl (mailto:mikeuhl -at- mindspring -dot- com)
President, Carolina Chapter, STC (1997-1998)
Ph. 919.541.4283 (W); Fax: 919.541.0056

Wendy Christensen wrote:

> Hello, techwriters...
> Rather than seeing it as a denigration, I tend to volunteer to take
> meeting minutes and/or notes in whatever situation I find myself,
> whether at a job or a volunteer group or whatever. Why? It's usually
> turned out that the person who takes the notes has a lot more power than
> anyone realizes. The notes/minutes tend to gain a (possibly undeserved
> but undeniable) legitimacy because they are actually written down, and
> thus become the final word on what was said / discussed / decided, thus
> ultimately trumping the fuzzy, inarticulate and non-agreeing memories of
> those actually present but not scribbling away.
> The opportunities for spin favorable to one's own opinions /
> leanings are tremendous. Not deception, mind you, just spin. Likewise,
> the most powerful position in many organizations turns out to be
> Secretary. Who opens the mail? Who sees EVERYTHING that comes through?
> The Secretary. Makes for a terrific powerbase! Any no one ever suspects
> a thing! Much guerrilla warfare can be carried out under cover of humble
> secretarial and notes-taking duties. (Or at least I have always found it
> to be so... your mileage may vary!)
> Happily Spinning Purrrrrs....
> Wendy Christensen

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