I spend more hours in meetings than out. Perhaps you do, too. I guess it is just a fact of corporate life. Over the years, I have cataloged a list of annoying meeting behaviors or just “AMBs” for short. None of these by themselves are that bothersome. But when you combine three or four of them in the same meeting, it can test the patience of Job.
I‘ve written this to the person exhibiting the behavior(s). That’s not you, of course. But if you want to listen in, that’s fine. Here’s the list:
- Arriving late. This ends up wasting everyone’s time. Not only do you miss out, but it often forces the group to start the meeting over just to get you up-to-speed. It also screams, “I’m disorganized. I can’t manage my time.” Is that really the impression you want to create?
- Taking phone calls. This is probably the most obnoxious behavior. You might as well say, “Excuse me, but I have someone else more important trying to reach me.” At the very least, have the courtesy to quietly excuse yourself and step out of the meeting. And, don’t answer the phone on your way out the door. Try to be as discrete as possible.
- Checking e-mail. This is similar to taking a phone call. It communicates that you have something more important to do than pay attention to the meeting. Just say, “no.” Leave the laptop in your office unless you need it for a formal presentation. And, please, PLEASE resist the urge to pull your Blackberry or iPhone out every five minutes and check your messages. (Okay, now I am preaching to myself!)
- Engaging in side conversations. A good meeting only has one conversation going on at a time. A side conversation is, at best, distracting. At worst, it is a challenge to the meeting leader for control of the conversation. Engage in a little self-control. If you need to follow-up with someone, write yourself a note, and do it after the meeting.
- Not taking notes. If it is not worth taking notes, why are you there? This communicates, “Nothing going on in this meeting is worth remembering or following-up on.” If you haven’t done so, you might want to read a previous post I wrote called “Recovering the Lost Art of Note-Taking.” You’ll be surprised how much more interesting the meeting becomes when you are capturing your thoughts or what others are sharing.
- Talking too much. There’s nothing worse than the person who feels the need to comment on everything. Or worse, once they get the floor, they won’t give it up. They just keep talking … and talking … and talking. C’mon, give the rest of us a chance!
- Interrupting others. Okay, you have a great idea. You’re smart. We’ve got it. But can you wait until the person currently talking is done? The worst form of this is the person who randomly changes the subject. When you make a sharp left turn, you can give everyone else in the meeting whiplash.
- Not coming prepared. Maybe you got away with this in school. But this is real life. People notice. When you are invited to attend a meeting, people expect you to make a contribution. If you don’t contribute, people assume you haven’t done your homework. Maybe that’s why you are getting invited to fewer meetings. Hmmm.>
- Chasing rabbits. This is one of those behaviors that makes meetings longer than they need to be. You don’t need to respond to every comment with a quip. You don’t have to tell some long, drawn-out story that everyone has already heard before. Stay focused. You can do it! The sooner we get through the agenda, the sooner we can get back to our offices and get some real work done.
- Not speaking up. Every meeting seems to have them. Deadwood. How can you sit quietly for the whole meeting? Sometimes I want to pull out a mirror, hold it under your nose, and make sure you can fog it! Why do you keep coming to meetings? Worse, why do we keep inviting you? Speak up or bow out.
When you really get down to it, all of these flow from the same basic problem: disrespect. Just think how much more productive we could make our meetings if we all showed one another respect and eliminated these behaviors.