Manners maketh the meeting (so make sure yours are impeccable)

When I conducted my informal survey about what constitutes bad manners in the workplace, in-house meetings were the number one forum for transgressions. From smartphone use to eating, interrupting to surreptitious texting, the things we bring to the table – literally – in meetings had everybody up in arms.

It makes sense. Meeting etiquette is an important piece in the productivity puzzle. We’ve all been in a nightmare meeting where people are interrupting, going off topic, texting and losing interest. It’s both annoying and time wasting. Good etiquette ensures not only that meetings run smoothly, but also that participants can share their ideas.

The most important piece of good meeting etiquette is to be prepared, which we wrote about in our blog Team meetings that run perfectly: follow the 5 Ps.

Smartphones: we’d love to banish them from the meeting room, but they are handy when you want to call up that email or refer to the notes from that meeting last month.  Rather than ban them, the rule could be that phones are in flight mode unless actively being used for the meeting. If the meeting runs for less than an hour, ask yourself if you really have to respond to that ‘urgent’ request right now. In longer meetings, wait until a break to check emails and messages.

If you want to use a phone or tablet to take notes, ask if the chair of the meeting is okay with it. That way, other participants understand that your tapping isn’t you texting a mate or tweeting about the dull meeting you’re in (which of course you will never do).

Another absolute no-no is scrolling through emails or checking your social media accounts or the sports scores. Don’t think that nobody notices. It’s distracting and disrespectful. The message you are sending is that the people in the room are not important. If you’re meeting with anybody who can influence your job or career, this is foolhardy; if you’re meeting clients, it’s potentially disastrous for your organisation – and ultimately for you.  Nothing will make you look less like team player.

So what if you really are expecting an urgent call?  The best course of action is to let the meeting organiser know, and take the call outside the room

Whether you are running the meeting or not, it can be tricky keep others on topic without seeming rude. The key is to make them feel valued. Instead of telling them they are off track, you could say something like: ‘That’s an important point and I’d like to discuss it, but I feel it’s not the topic of this meeting. Can you email me after the meeting?’ This lets the person know that their input is valuable, just not timely. If their input is in fact not valuable, the email conversation will be brief. If it is valuable, another meeting may be required. But this method ensures both meetings are highly focused and productive.

Another thing that was mentioned was eating in a meeting. Unless it’s something prepared for a lunch meeting or your routine is to get out the office bikkie tin, don’t eat. Having a coffee is okay; tucking into a chilli chicken panini is distracting and off-putting to others. And if you have a coffee or use a plate, clean up after yourself and leave the room the way you found it.

Finally, respect everybody’s time by sticking to your schedule. Don’t be the person who makes meetings run over time by reserving your questions for the end, just as the meeting is wrapping up. Learn to ask questions and make your contribution at the right time. Meetings that run over time clog up rooms that are needed for other meetings, and tie up people who may be required for other groups’ projects. And good manners are, after all, about considering others.