Ten Annoying Meeting Behaviors

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.Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MichaelDeLeon, Image #7887592

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MichaelDeLeon

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.>
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Question: What have I missed? Anything else that bugs you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Brittany Hudson

    Texting while participating/talking at a meeting.  STOP IT!  If you can’t control yourself, leave your phone in your brief case.  Also, the chronic contrarian.  This person has to object to absolutely everything in order to show the room how smart he or she is. 

  • Masterworkproductions

    Michael, I am curious. How many women are a part of your corporate world?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Well, I’m not in the corporate world anymore, but when I was, probably a little more than half.

  • http://www.thegiftofmondays.com/ colleen laquay urbaniuk

    i wholeheartedly agree with all 10! it’s also frustrating when the person leading the meeting doesn’t “reign” people in who have gotten off topic.  and when there are meetings just to have a meeting and you leave wondering if anything was accomplished at all.  while meetings are  necessary, the poorly planned and executed ones are nothing more than a waste of time. your rules should be given to every organization to follow.

  • Anonymous

    I think this article should have a downloadable pdf scorecard, like the little scorecards at mini-golf places. Then you could pass a score card to somebody in a sort of passive-aggressive way. 

    Good stuff, thanks.

  • Tlcarufel

    a returning aa member loudly questions another old time member with the shout u better get over it old man.  How am I supposed to respond.?

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  • Anonymous

    I would add:
    Being unprepared
    Not showing up

    Crucial people (like decision makers) need to know if they don’t show up, then time is wasted to meet.  

    Being unprepared is wasting people’s time. 

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    When someone rants about how tough their job is at a meeting. If it is the person running the meeting, it makes everyone else feel like a failure. If it is a peer, it makes you feel like slapping them and telling them to toughen up. I don’t think it’s a conversation you’re supposed to be having in a meeting. Share it 1 on 1 with your boss.

  • Jose Figueroa

    I think that’s a very good list. I think you could add to the list: the meeting that results in another meeting. Either due to lack of an agenda or goal, or lack of decision making ability of those present, sometimes all that’s accomplished is to schedule another call. We end up managing by meeting until the calendar runs out.

  • http://www.thecallofmen.com/ Scott Moore

    “If it is not worth taking notes, why are you there?”  Or as the leader, perhaps I should ask myself – “If it is not worth taking notes… why I am still talking?” :]

  • Anonymous

    One thing that this article assumes is that the person has an option to not attend the meeting.  Some cultures require attendance to meetings that simply don’t have direct application to the manager’s core function (more of a “posterity’s sake” sort of environment, or a redundancy model).  The post also assumes that the manager has subordinates that can carry on the daily workflow in their absence during the meeting.  Many environments have one-man departments that have to stay in close contact to meet goals and deadlines outside the scope of the meeting.  However, I think that in those cases, the other meeting attendees are not bothered by the infractions that are outlined here because they understand the purpose behind them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1461818502 Robert Ehrlich Dietrich

    Death by powerpoint… of course that usually falls under not coming prepared. If you are just going to read the slides, just show us the slides. I am a big boy, I can read them without your help.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, I’m running into resistance in my efforts to manage church meetings as I would business meetings. I believe there’s a time for social exchange in building the church, but when we gather to conduct church business these same rules apply!

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  • Jorge

    I lead a board for a ministry and have one board member that never takes notes and always leaves important information at the table. I need to boldness to talk to him and either see change or let him go.

  • Tel

    Disagree with #5 Not Taking Notes. If it’s not interesting or compelling enough to remember without having to write it down then it’s not worth remembering. Too much note taking is just as bad as not concentrating, because as others have alluded to you you can’t actually multi-task, so taking copious notes means you’re missing half the content, which is not about what is said, but the way in which it is said and by who.

    The only person who should take notes is the one holding the meeting.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I certainly couldn’t take notes and also run the meeting. Leading the conversation takes my full attention. This is not true when I am a participant. Thanks for your input.

  • Ebony M.

    Agree on all points. I think you’ve covered all possibilities! Any and all of these are unproductive during meetings. And since most of us hate meetings why prolong the agony? Hope this list inspires some to become better attendees. :)

  • Kathie Chiu

    Well, I feel terribly guilty now… I’ve committed several of these offenses at one time or another. However, many people do some of these things because they hate meetings. Other behaviours can be a result of poor leadership from the chair. It’s totally appropriate to call the meeting to order to move through the agenda when things get off track.

    I happen to like meetings, but not the ones where we plow through the agenda as if the goal of the meeting is to get through the meeting quickly. It’s important to know that meetings help a team stay on the same page, promote consistency among departments and are an opportunity to refocus on vision and core values. A good leader will use meetings as an opportunity to pump up the team by praising them for their accomplishments and thanking them for their contributions to the team.

    Thanks for the post. These are good reminders for us all.

  • http://jill-theimperfectjourney.blogspot.com/ jill

    I do need to work on that note taking item. That’s my weak spot. However, please stop assuming those of us who are quiet are not thinking and contributing. It’s an American cultural thing, as someone said, to assume everyone should talk, and that is the only valid form of participation. I may not say a word but have a very well formulated plan after I process what went on. For most introverts, meetings are not that useful. No, we cannot “just learn” to break into conversation, partly because it’s not our nature and partly because there’s nothing wrong with how we work. We don’t want to be like the talkers. And you need both for the best working environment.

  • Simanton62

    1. Showing a PowerPoint and reading every word on it to the audience.
    2. Pulling out food to snack on in front of everyone.
    3. Asking questions that only pertain to your department and should not waste everyone’s time…ask privately later.
    4. Staring at anything on an individual screen during the presentation rather than making eye contact with the presenter.
    5.. Calling a meeting when an email would have sufficed, since the meeting was purely informational and those who called it had no desire for employee input whatsoever.

  • Audrey

    Negative attitude which is projected via negative body language. Shifting in seat, crossing and uncrossing legs, facial gestures that make it clear to everyone that this person is not ‘with the program’…it’s the old adage…actions speak louder than words, and disrupt just as much as audible comments…maybe even more.

  • http://twitter.com/jermcd Jeremy Macdonald

    Guilty of at least half of these. Trick is to make 3 look like 5. Feel I have got that off pretty good ;-)

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    Yes, yes, yes. All annoying behaviors!

  • CWB

    Productivity might be at a premium in certain situations, and when meetings are prolonged by a lot of “yaking”….the same points being expressed over and over; or irrelevant comments being made; ….it can be a waste of productive time! Keep to the point….stay on task!

  • Rudy

    I have a punster in my meetings. Everything is a pun. Nobody ever laughs and its distracting. And he wonders why nobody ever takes his suggestions seriously.

  • http://tommartinatl.com/ Tom Martin

    I made it a standing rule if your late to a meeting you must entertain those who were there on time with a song. Tardiness really hasn’t been a problem since.

  • Daniel Pennington

    How about this one. One woman I work with does this every week. “Now let’s everyone spend about five minutes sharing their top three priorities. Just three, okay?” And then she goes on for twenty minutes and tells us a list of 25-30 things she’s doing. My suggestion, arrive on time, stay within time limits, and depart on time.

  • http://marknoldy.com/ Mark Noldy

    Interesting post. (Old post.) The top annoying behaviors in meetings are remarkably similar to the top annoying behaviors in my classroom… Hmm. Unpreparedness, side conversations, and chasing rabbits are pet peeves of mine.