10 reasons no one wants you in their meetings

featured-on-usnIf you’re like most people, you’re not too fond of all the meetings you get stuck attending at work. But have you ever considered whether our coworkers are sick of having you in their meetings, because you engage in behavior that derail or disrupt the conversation? After all, most meeting derailers don’t realize that their behavior is annoying others.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about 10 of the top ways that you might be frustrating colleagues in meetings — including showing up late, making every discussion longer than it needs to be, always playing devil’s advocate, and more. You can read it here.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon

    Anyone have suggestions for how to handle it when your boss does it? He’s late for meetings, expects the meeting to re-start when he comes in, wanders in and out of them, is on his phone, doesn’t prepare, etc.

    1. KellyK

      Two things. One is to discuss it with him in a non-confrontational way. For example, asking if there’s a better time to schedule, or if he’d like the team to do X and Y on their own and meet with him briefly or email him a summary.

      The other is to basically expect that he’s not going to prepare for meetings or show up reliably and figure out what you can do to keep that from holding you up. For example, if you’re scheduling the meeting, plan in a little buffer time in case you have to wait for him or restart when he comes in late.

    2. Yup

      Plan for it. Does he really need to be in this meeting? If no, make him an optional attendee or let him know you’ll update him afterwards. If yes, assume that he’ll be late and arrange the agenda accordingly, so that the initial stuff is easy to summarize and you don’t lose momentum. In addition to sending out an agenda beforehand, write the agenda on a whiteboard in the meeting area etc. so you can refer to it when he arrives. “Hey Steve, we’ve reviewed XYZ and now we’re moving to item #2.”

      If he’s consistently unprepared, check in pre-meeting. “Hey, are we all set for tomorrow’s TPS meeting? You’re on deck to give an update on the Pinksy project. Should I pull any data together for you?”

      Bring printed copies of relevant material to the meeting, to head off the I-haven’t-seen-that-memo-yet feint.

      Finish all meetings with a wrap-up and brief statement of next steps. “So today we’ve agreed to start the research process. Joan will handle the contract and Mike will report back on the template. We’ll meet again next week to go over the timeline.” Consider sending out post-meeting summaries/minutes, so that you’re documenting the plans/decisions and can keep up momentum when he leaves to take a phone call or doesn’t remember what was decided last week when he showed up 30 min late.

      Good luck!

    3. mas

      We have this on a weekly basis on my team, for a meeting that is basically unnecessary which makes it even worse. After a year of attempts to change it, we’ve all just accepted we’ll spend an hour a week drinking some coffee as a group. I sometimes use the time to make a list of pending items I need to address that week, tasks I am giving to the people I supervise, and people I need to call… but I’ll also confess that sometimes I just think about my grocery list and what I’m doing that weekend!

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      I had a boss years ago that we described as having “diarrhea of the mouth”. He’d have weekly status meetings where he would tell of about things we already know, about things we didn’t care about and didn’t involve us, and would occasionally ask us about individual statuses that would better be handled one on one.

  2. Mike C.

    It’s interesting how much company culture comes into play. Everyone is on their phones checking emails or getting data to answer emergent issues. To be honest, it’s not that distracting at all.

    Heck, i can’t tell you how many times I’ve been emailed from a boss’s blackberry for data while they’re sitting in a meeting. It’s certainly much better than walking in and out or heaven forbid taking a call.

    But what works for one company doesn’t always work elsewhere.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Agreed — although I’m with most of Alison’s list, I think checking your phone is considered OK at my company because meetings often divide themselves into parts where one particular group of coworkers are more important to the discussion in the first part, and then another group is more important in the second part. But it’s too much of a pain to schedule two micromeetings, so instead what you get is people checking their email when it’s not their turn to be actively participating. It does, of course, annoy me when I see someone checking his phone when it *is* his turn to take part, and it takes an extremely delicate touch to do it in *client* meetings. (Again, sometimes the whole team will be sitting in an all-day meeting with the client, and in the first hour, it’s more important for Department A to engage the client, then Department B, then Departments A and C after that, and so on — so, depending on your relationship with the client, you MAY be able to check your phone when it’s not your turn. But it’s best to err on the side of caution.)

      I also don’t take issue with people eating in meetings at all, as long as the food isn’t smelly or noisy. In fact, given the annoying tendency of people at my company to schedule meetings between noon and 2, I sure as hell am not going to skip lunch just because I have a bunch of meetings scheduled! If I’m annoying the meeting organizer by eating lunch in a meeting, all I have to say to that person is: schedule your meeting outside of typical lunch times.

      1. the gold digger

        Oh man. If you schedule a meeting through lunchtime, you better be providing food.

        There is a vendor pitching a consulting contract to us. Nice people and a good product, but we’ve had two meetings with them so far that have not only run into lunchtime (without food being offered) but have run late. If I don’t get to eat my lunch until 1:00, I am going to be very very cranky.

        1. Mike C.

          Holy crap this. There is *no excuse* for that, and it’s unproductive as all heck.

        2. AdAgencyChick

          Whoa, a VENDOR scheduled a meeting and didn’t provide lunch? I’ve never been to a vendor meeting that DIDN’T have food — usually they are falling all over themselves to feed you, even at non-mealtimes!

          1. the gold digger

            They came here. But they could have brought kolaches or bagels and cream cheese with them. When I was in sales, I took food to my customers all the time.

            We have a meeting with them (here) next week from 11:30 to 1:00. I have already asked our admin if there will be food. If not, I will be so ticked off. I don’t like being hungry and I have the added benefit that low blood sugar is a migraine trigger for me. So I might have to eat my lunch at 11:15, which also annoys me.

            I am easily annoyed. :)

            1. AdAgencyChick

              Vendors who come to us usually bring a catered lunch (or snacks, if that’s what time of day it is). Boo to bad behavior!

              I don’t blame you for asking whether there’s going to be food involved.

            2. Gene

              Around here, vendor meeting = at least doughnuts.

              If they schedule a lunch meeting and don’t provide food, that’s the day I’m having a sardine and onion sandwich with chips. And I’m sitting right up front so I can breathe on the vendor.

              1. Jessa

                Yes, it’s shocking that vendors don’t feed, but darn if it this is like the 3d meeting, management should at least bring bagels or donuts. Since they KNOW the vendor isn’t feeding their people.

        3. Jessa

          Thank you. Also, if you schedule a meeting during lunch, your salaried employees STILL get to take their lunch hours, even if you provide food. Their lunch hours are for them to decompress from working. You don’t get to work them through lunch because you feed them .

          1. Elizabeth West

            OldJob had the quarterly meeting at lunch and then we had to go back to work. I never quite felt that was very nice, even though they fed us. But it was manufacturing, and they really didn’t need to shut down the lines for two hours.

        4. Anonymous

          Re food:
          I eat during the one weekly meeting I have to attend, but it’s the time I normally eat lunch anyways. Often people bring snacks to share to that meeting, so it’s not like it’s a problem. Also sometimes food is a good thing, as I told a new person, if they’re stuffing their face, they’re not asking questions then.

          What annoys me is when people regularly schedule meeting during lunchtime (in my workplace anytime between noon and 2pm) OR decide that since that person is booked all day except for 1 hour, that’s it perfectly OK to schedule a meeting in that block, not even considering if that person has time to eat lunch or not.

      2. KellyK

        Absolutely! I think if you can reasonably avoid eating during a meeting, it’s better to do so, but skipping lunch is right out. (And I would add “messy” to your noisy or smelly caveats.)

      3. AnonAgain

        I had to endure a company meeting that lasted a few hours and the entire time, my boss was texting back and forth to her FB (they’re both married – to other people- and many of us know of their – umm – relationship ) that was sitting in front of her. Several of us saw them doing it and it was just super distracting/disrespectful.

        1. KellyK

          Wow, that is amazingly inappropriate. (And I had to go to acronymfinder to figure out what an FB is in this context.)

    2. Leslie Yep

      That’s us too–in fact since we’re all remote from each other, we’re often emailing/chatting each other in the background while we’re talking.

      My significant other is a lawyer and he mentioned a judge who also taught at his law school who had his laptop open during trial to fact check the attorneys. In some ways, maybe unnecessarily combative. In other ways, possibly fewer speculative rabbit holes.

  3. Sara

    random question–I’ve never been in this situation so I m not too aware of what’s proper or not….but is it OK to have paper and pen and take notes at the meetings?

    1. Matthew Soffen

      I would think that
      1) If you are the organizer, YES
      2) If you are a participant who WILL get action items assigned, yes
      3) If you are just there to answer questions, Probably not.

      1. Cat

        On (3), no, I think that’s not right. It is always okay to take notes barring super weird situations.

    2. The Other Dawn

      I would say that you should always show up with a paper and pen, just to be prepared. I always find it strange when people show up to a meeting without those items. What if they need to take notes or jot something down to follow up on later? I have found that those who don’t show up with paper and pen are usually the ones who miss deadlines or important details. I guess it just gives me a sense that they don’t care.

      1. KellyK

        Totally agree. The only reason I would show up without pen and paper is if I brought a laptop for note-taking instead.

      2. -X-

        Very senior people don’t need to take notes, even for tasks assigned to them – the meeting organizer or an assistant or someone is often expected to keep a record in whatever way is useful to them.

        1. The Other Dawn

          Interesting. I haven’t seen that before. Maybe because I work very a very small company. Maybe it’s different in bigger companies. I don’t know that I would trust someone else to take notes for me.

          1. Anon

            +1. Was going to say that the higher up I get, the more note-taking looks “junior”. That said, it’s better to take notes than to forget. Similar to waiters memorizing orders – it works well at high end restaurants; less well for the lower end. Woe befalls the person who forgets my order.

            1. The Other Dawn

              How is note-taking “junior”? I would think that anyone attending a meeting would have a reason to take notes, regardless of their position.

              1. -X-

                The reason to take notes is to have a record of information you or someone else needs for later action.

                Senior people can have other people keep that record for them. They want their attention is 100% on the meeting (listening/talking), and not on the notes. Therefore, note taking is a little bit junior.

                I know very senior people who take their own notes. The chair of my organization does. Henry Kissinger did. But that’s by choice. If they wanted, they could have others take notes for them.

                1. Cassie

                  I wouldn’t expect very senior people to be taking minutes – that usually falls to the most junior clerical/assistant type. But it’s not unusual for people to jot down a point here or there – either on paper or on their phones.

            2. Windchime

              Wow, that’s not the case at my place of business. Everyone up to the Directors and CIO will take notes at meetings.

      3. Cassie

        I agree – even if I’m just attending the meeting as an observer, I usually bring a notebook and pen too. Someone might mention something important.

        This just happened to me – there was a meeting a few weeks ago where it was mentioned (if I remember correctly) that the dept would be footing the bill for something. Since another admin took notes, I don’t think I wrote it down. Well fast forward to today – someone asked me about it and I couldn’t remember for sure. I asked the other admin and she couldn’t remember – I asked about her notes and she said that she hadn’t written down that portion. Arg!

    3. Mike C.

      Unless they are discussing matters of state security, why wouldn’t it be allowed?

    4. NatalieR

      I think it’s always a good idea to have paper and pen at a meeting. You never know when your boss is going to ask you to do something because the meeting topic reminds her. That or a meeting topic reminds you that you owe someone in the meeting a report, budget or plan.

      Plus, you might hear about something in a meeting that’s worth writing down – a random useful web address or article.

      1. Jessa

        Honestly, most decent sized meetings I’ve ever been to had pads of paper and pens around. Even if they were just scratch paper pads. I think it’s odd, unless the company uses note taking tech like ipads or tablets or blackberry devices.

        At small department meetings everyone brought their own notetaking stuff. But I’ve never seen a meeting that wasn’t stenographed for minutes, not encourage note taking.

      1. Kelly O

        I barely go in someone else’s office without my “portable brain.”

        GTD Collection Devices FTW!

    5. Chinook

      I would think that it would be wrong to NOT have something to take notes with in a meeting. I have even seen newbies sent back to their desk to get paper & pen if they come in empty handed.

      Plus, if you are bored, you can atleast pretend you are taking notes by creating lists of what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, etc.

  4. meiousei

    I had an interview a couple of years ago (for my current job, actually) in which one member of my interviewing panel pretty much scrolled through her iPhone for the entire meeting. I already knew her at the time of the interview, but I was so very turned off by that. It turns out that this is just a habit of hers that manifests at a whole lot of department meetings, but it still really annoys me.

  5. Anon

    I have an employee who ALWAYS does at least 4 of these — I’ve tried to explain what she’s doing and how it’s disruptive, but she just doesn’t get it. I wish I could just send her this article without her getting offended! Numbers 3, 5, 8, and 9 hit the nail right on the head!

    1. Jessa

      I see no reason why not linking her to the outside article by Alison would NOT be appropriate after a discussion of why these behaviors are not okay and a “We’re going to work on one at a time, the most annoying one is A.” I think maybe that the first time, the AAM article with all the talk between the lot of us might be a little strong. But the actual linked advice? That’s more than okay to give to a subordinate who has an issue. Heck I’d print it out and hand it to them to refer to and remind them to read it before meetings with the first thing I want them to work on highlighted.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Agree with the others — please tell her that it’s not optional and she needs to work on these things. You’re her manager; it’s appropriate and in fact necessary!

      1. Anon

        All right, you guys convinced me, I have it printed and sitting on my desk, ready to give her when the timing is right (probably not in the middle of a hectic busy day like today though :)

  6. Sharon

    At a former company, we had one client with a manager that had breath-takingly bad meeting manners. He was director for a 911 dispatching agency. When we had meetings with him, he would yank his 911 supervisor off her desk and make her take notes for him. And we had one meeting to plan a critical software launch where he was in and out the entire time. Each time he came back, he made us recap from the beginning, not just what he missed, and then explain things he didn’t understand. He did that about 8 times, which stretched what should have been a 15 minute discussion into well over an hour.

    1. -X-

      “and then explain things he didn’t understand.”

      If he doesn’t understand because he wasn’t there, that’s annoying. But if just doesn’t understand, it’s good he asked for more explanation.

    2. Jessa

      Is there a specific reason he needs to be enabled by being allowed to leave and come back and not miss anything. He really should be having his manager update him AFTER. The only reason he’s getting away with this is because the meeting organisers are letting him.

  7. Phyllis

    Aargh. I have a co-worker that is routinely late to trainings I’m required to conduct. And she always has a shocked look when she comes in and discovers we’ve started without her. My philosophy is I’m not going to be about rewarding the latecomers by waiting on them to start. The only person I wait starting a meeting on is our superintendent. She’s great about letting us know to go ahead without her if she’s going to be tied up though.

    1. the gold digger

      One of the things that made me nuts when I was in the Peace Corps and working with a group of indigenous women was that the meetings always started late and even then, people would arrive late. Any time a latecomer showed up, they would start the meeting over.

      It is amazing that my Type A self didn’t have a heart attack in those two years.

      1. -X-

        I like meetings to start on time, and in another thread pointed out that time is a standard in information technology. I live in the US BTW.

        But if the norm is that meeting start late, and the vast majority of people don’t mind, or even expect it, then that’s the norm. Starting on time is not the norm, so you’re the one doing things odd. I assume you came to understand this.

        1. Jessa

          This, and the answer is to hang around chatting til EVERYONE is there and then start.

  8. Christine

    I think these can apply to meetings held outside of work, such as an advisory council or board meeting. I sit on an advisory council for my county, and I’ve seen a few of these no-no’s. For #6, I don’t see people eating a full meal, but someone at my last meeting was eating out of a snack bag, and the rustling was driving me a little batty.

    I’d like to add an 11th one – side conversations!!! First of all, it’s really rude. Also, I have difficulty filtering out/ignoring background noise, so if I can hear that people are whispering, it just jangles every last nerve.

  9. Kelly O

    We have someone who absolutely thrives on being devil’s advocate for any issue, no matter how truly insignificant. It is absolutely maddening to have every single thing you say, or every single thing someone else says, broken down as if we are trying to preserve national security, just so he can look smarter. (Or feel like he looks smarter. We all think he’s kind of a dolt, but he thinks he looks really smart.)

    I get looking at alternate points of view and bringing up valid concerns, but when it’s every time, regardless of subject, context, or importance, it gets old very, very quickly.

    1. Jessa

      Someone needs to pull aside the meeting manager and explain to them that it’s okay to say “Hey Shuvon, we get it, we need to move on now.” And just CUT that stuff out.

    2. Anon

      OMG yes… The constant “hypotheticals” from these kind of people is maddening, and makes me stabby!

  10. Bryce

    #11: You call meetings when they aren’t really necessary, and don’t call meetings when they ARE necessary.

    In some situations, such as gathering feedback on a document or sharing your weekly project status, an email or phone call makes more sense. In others, such as to get brainstorming for ideas on a rush project, you need a meeting.

  11. Anon7

    We rarely have in person meetings at my work. They are mainly conference calls. Number one rule – please make sure you are on mute! Once I heard a toilet flush during a call. Glad it wasn’t more than that.

  12. OneoftheMichelles

    A friend of mine was the guy in charge of info distribution in his company, but kept being commanded to attend the “what’s going on this month” meetings–not as the presenter.

    At one, he asked why all the men were wearing red and yellow ties. When one piped up brightly and said, “They’re Power Ties! They show that we’re go getters!” He wryly replied that it sounded like someone found a way to unload a lot of red and yellow ties. He *noticed* several of them glancing down and fussing with their ties after that.

    So at the next meeting, when everyone brought snacks and doughnuts, etc., he brought something special–imported, candied grasshoppers (think a bag of dead grasshoppers in black licorice liquid)–ew! And made a point of popping one in his mouth whenever someone was about to sum up their big point.

    It was blue gumballs, next meeting. After sharing them with half the people at the meeting, he commented happily that he’d always loved them…and the best thing about them was that “they turn your mouth Bright Blue!” A lot of people suddenly sucked their lips shut. It was an unusually quite meeting.

    Happily, by next meeting, his boss informed him that he didn’t have to attend those meetings anymore.

    1. Gene

      I managed to get univited from plant redesign meetings with the engineering company by asking difficult questions. The final straw was when I looked at 20 years of data instead of the 5 years they had used for design calculations and showed that their assumptions were not only wrong, but massively wrong – to the point that their whole rationale for the upgrade was wrong.

      I wasn’t invited to another meeting after that, they changed the rationale for the redesign, and we are still spending $70 million, but it’s being spread out over 10 years instead of 5.

  13. Windchime

    Another one is people who have side conversations in meetings. If the current topic isn’t interesting, this person will start talking quietly to his/her neighbor. If the neighbor just smiles politely and doesn’t respond, then this can be shut down but more often than not, the neighbor will start conversing and then I’m in the uncomfortable position of trying to pay attention to the main topic while hearing this distracting, whispered side conversation nearby. I just find that so rude but it happens frequently here.

  14. Elizabeth West

    1. Arriving late.
    Sorry, we shut and locked the door! ;)

    2. Reading email or checking your phone while other people are talking.
    Soooo hard not to.

    3. Monopolizing the conversation.
    Coworker does this.

    4. Not speaking at all.
    I sometimes do this.

    5. Making every discussion longer than it needs to be.
    Oh God, same coworker.

    6. Eating.
    Lunch meetings are the best. The last one we had I got to use my corporate credit card at a fancy place. I felt so posh. 0_0

    7. Not preparing.
    I’ve never encountered this, but I can see where it would be annoying.

    8. Being rude or adversarial.
    *puts tack in this person’s chair*

    9. Always playing devil’s advocate.
    I got nothing.

    10. Running meetings where you allow bad behavior from others.
    Argh, I don’t want to be this person. But how do you shut #3 and #5 up without being mean? I don’t wanna be mean either!

    1. OneoftheMichelles

      I think I do #5 and I wish someone would discuss my reasons (tying to make sure nothing useful is overlooked; not knowing which concerns to lay aside or bring up and where/when to bring up the good ones) with me and explain how to apply them better….co-worker, boss, whoever knows the mysterious answer.

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