people and phone

Meeting Interruptus is a Respect for People Issue

Recognize these meeting behaviors?

  • Half-listening at best on a teleconference, while you’re working away on email and checking something else
  • Looking around at the people in the room and practically everyone is checking their smart phones
  • Travel to a location to be in meetings, only to find that people aren’t fully engaged with you — they’re spending 3/4 of their time pecking away on their laptops.
  • Many side conversations – either in person or via instant messaging

My biggest gripe is tied to our addiction to working on our electronic devices in meetings. I know the email onslaught is dreadful, but seriously, we’re far too accepting of this “check the smartphone” behavior. It may be common, but it is rude.

I’m forming a hypothesis that the curse of our technological age is that it amplifies our preference to be everywhere else but where we are.

Meetings are the lightning rod for complaints and criticism, and also for an odd form of braggadocio. I frequently hear people asking for more genuinely helpful communication — I can’t recall anyone asking for more meetings. In some perverse circles it’s a badge of honor that we’re double and triple-booked in meetings. We rationalize, “Oh, I’m in demand.” I’ve been horrified on some rare days when I’m not heavily scheduled to find that it’s actually difficult for me to work without engaging in meeting-interruptus.

But let’s get back to meetings. My key message:

Meeting behavior is a Respect for People issue

May I repeat that? Meeting behavior is a Respect for People issue.

There are 2 sides of this:

  • Your prep for the meeting
  • Your attention and contribution to the meeting

Well-run meetings are shorter and more productive. If you are calling a meeting, do your part to make it good. At a minimum, make sure there is an agenda, and ensure key facts, decisions, and action items are communicated well. Here are some articles on making meeting time worthwhile:

Two Insanely Simple Rules to Make Meetings Matter

Effective Meetings – Starter Model (from Manager Tools)

The 13-step Plan to Run A World-Class Bad Meeting (humor with a purpose)

It’s Not Just an Hour

What do you do when the meeting is boring, bleh, not relevant to you? Two suggestions:

1.     Leave — might be a better use of time

2.     Observe the meeting with a new perspective — if you were in charge of the meeting, how would you make it better?

Giving people the gift of your time and attention is critically important. When we’re working to be *present* in discussions then we can have real dialogue, instead of just banter.

Yes, good meetings require more work to plan and facilitate. You largely get what you “pay” for. If you’re the meeting facilitator, you can create environments which make it easier for everyone to be present.

  • Schedule shorter meetings with tighter agenda focus. Consider scheduling a 5-10 min break every hour to give people the time to check email, etc. — and then insist that electronics are OFF the other 50-55 minutes.
  • Consider a basket or bowl for people to park their smartphones. Put it right in the center of the table. The first time you do this be prepared for that person who goes into withdrawal, fingers twitching like an addict.
  • When your smartphone beeps to let you know you have a text or a meeting request, ignore it. It will wait. Develop a system with your family so you’ll know if something is truly urgent. (I know one man whose wife will call his phone, let it ring twice, then hang up and call again if she really needs to speak with him; otherwise she leaves a message.)
  • Study people’s faces as they speak. Look into their eyes. Study body language. Be intentional about your focus on them in order to be present in the meeting.

Participating well in meetings is the other half of the “respect for people” equation.

  • If you’re using an electronic device to take notes, make sure that’s all that you’re doing. Turn off your email and those 37 open tabs in your browser. Project your screen so others can see — great way to skip the temptation to hop over and “just check” your inbox.
  • Discipline yourself. Put your smartphone on the table, rather than keeping it in your hand. Step out of the room if you need to check email to monitor a situation. That’s an honest effort to put your body in the same place your mind is — out of the meeting.
  • Set an example for others. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Ms Manager and Mr. Manager.)

Meetings are about working together and making 1+1 = much more than 2. Meeting power comes through being present.

What other thoughts and suggestions do you have?