Right now, all around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in some type of meeting. One-on-one meetings. Small group meetings. Huge departmental meetings. And more than likely, there are thousands of people behaving badly in these meetings. Look, a lot of the meetings we attend are huge time-wasters. I get it. There’s a reason why TV shows like “The Office” and comic strips like “Dilbert” lampoon office meeting life. Unfortunately, there can be real consequences when we exhibit bad meeting-killing behaviors. There are poor first impressions and reputations that can be affected. Also, you never know who’s sitting in the meeting…
I had a good reminder of this recently. At the start of a meeting, one of the attendees rolled in and immediately started scrolling through his iPhone. OK, he’s a busy guy, I get it. But when he started picking at his fingernails, I was completely distracted. Now, every time I see him, I’m going to think of dirty fingernails…see how this works?
So what are some bad behaviors? Check yourself for the following the next time you attend a meeting (which probably will be soon):
Being Condescending: My poor co-worker. I remember sitting in a conference call one time when we were listening to a higher-up go on and on with the latest non-sensical MBA buzz words ending with “-gize” (like synerGIZE and strateGIZE). My co-worker asked the higher-up what a certain word meant. After about a minute of silence, she came back (with an irritated and condescending tone) and said, “Are you serious?” She should have just said, “I’m wasting my time with you two idiots.” You might be the smartest guy (or woman) in the room…but people will hate you for coming off like you know you are.
Poor Body Language: Interview and interrogation experts say that more than 90% of our cues are non-verbal. In other words, actions speak louder than words. The executive who leans back in his chair with his hands behind his head (I’m the big dog). Or how about that anti-social co-worker who sits with her arms and legs crossed (leave me alone). In the same way, when you rest your head on your hand or slouch in your chair (like being in your least favorite high school class), this screams, “I hate this meeting and can’t wait to get out!”
Going Off-Topic: This one drives me crazy. The meeting is already taking up a lot of time. The off-topic co-worker makes this even worse by taking you on a verbal journey. A simple question like, “What do you think about the company’s new initiative?” is an invitation for the off-topic co-worker to bring out their inner Lincoln. The response will begin with a monologue and continue for the next 15-20 minutes…unless someone jumps in and cuts him/her off (PLEASE!).
Smart Phone-Scrolling: Sadly, this is so commonplace now I think it’s becoming an accepted practice. I feel for the meeting planner (or speaker) when meeting members have their heads down and are scrolling through their phone. Is it really that important that it can’t wait until the meeting is over? Nothing screams “You are not important!” more than putting your head down and ordering movie tickets from Fandango. (Are you really checking your e-mail?)
Sleeping: The classic meeting-killer. Admittedly, I’ve done it. (In my defense, the one embarrassing time I really fell asleep, I had taken Benadryl for my allergies. For me, I might as well have taken sleeping pills.) If you have to, step out of the room before you start snoring (I’ve heard snoring on a conference call before) and avoid the huge pasta lunch before your 1 PM meeting. The best (or worst) ever? During one of our CEO speeches, a guy in the front row fell asleep. After the speech, the CEO immediately went to the back of the room and asked, “Who is that guy?” I never saw the guy again. Not to say the guy got fired, but you can be sure that his manager and his manager’s manager heard from the CEO (and everyone else in that room).
Bad or Inappropriate Jokes: I have to admit, this one I actually have to laugh at (as long as I’m not the one telling the bad or inappropriate joke). If you ever watch “The Office,” this is Todd Packer. No filters and no sense of what’s bad or inappropriate. I worked with guys like this. At the time it’s painfully embarrassing and awkward. At worst, these incidents become like company urban legend and you’re forever known as the “Remember that one meeting…” employee. Don’t be a company urban legend.
What are some memorable meeting-killing behaviors that you’ve seen?
Post your comments below.