Meeting Etiquette, or Something Worse?

Meeting Etiquette, or Something Worse?

Let’s assume we had a dinner meeting planned in a quiet restaurant.  The dinner party is small, maybe 3, maybe just the 2 of us.  While we were talking, I take out my iPhone and set it on the table next to my plate face up.  As we discuss our agenda, I glance at my phone every few seconds waiting for a notification that I’ve received and email, or a text, or *gasp* a Tweet.   How important did I make you, and others at the table feel?  So, to remedy the situation, I turn my phone face down.  There! Now I can’t see when I get a message.  But I can still hear or feel the phone vibrate.  I can get a buzz on my Fitbit watch that something came in.  The lack of total attention I am paying to you is a symptom not the problem.  The problem is the myth that we can multitask, and it is causing us to show the extremely poor etiquette of disinterest in the current conversation.

This is bad enough at the dinner table.  The business impact is more profound.  When did it become acceptable to sit in a business meeting and play with our mobile devices?  I’ve worked in manufacturing and public utility companies for a large portion of my career.  Those industries are well known for their numerous, long, meetings with large numbers of attendees.  I’m sure other industries are similar.  Long ago, there was an unwritten rule that “distractive devices” were not permitted in meetings.  Meetings are a huge consumer of everyone’s time and minimizing the time need to get through the agenda was important.  Think about this: a 1-hour meeting with 10 executives, even estimating low on the salaries can cost the company $1,000 ($200K = $100/hr/attendee).  Did you get $1,000 worth of benefit at that meeting while everyone was checking Facebook?  How many important knowledge nuggets did you miss reading a funny Tweet from Sports Pickle.  One of my previous companies had a great rule.  If you were distracted for any reason and asked a question about something that was already covered, you had to pay $1 to whoever called you on it.

And I hate to admit it, but I am guilty as everyone else.  I routinely brought a laptop (Surface, iPad, etc.) into meetings to “take copious notes” like I mentioned in my last blog.  I always sat at one end of the table, so no one could see my screen while I read or sent emails, hoping everyone thought I was paying attention.  I stopped that practice long ago at all but the meetings I facilitated because I really did just take notes.  Now all I take is paper and pens (multiple colors – Red, Green Blue and Black because I am very OCD about note taking.  That for another blog.)

Let’s talk about security for a few minutes.  Operations people always lead with Safety.  IT people always lead with Security.  How comfortable are you that I have my iPhone out on the table while we are meeting on Strategic Planning initiatives for next year?  That is an important topic and deserves my full attention, right?  I can’t be checking texts and Facebook.  What if I have my Voice Recording app running and record the entire conversation without your knowledge?   Yes, it is illegal to record conversations without approval from all participants.  Let’s take this a step farther.  What if I have a Facetime or Skype app open and I am secretly broadcasting this confidential conversation outside the company?  Scary how quickly we crossed over from etiquette to espionage to felony, isn’t it?

What formal policies do you have in place?  What behavior do you permit?  Security issues aside, do you allow the participants at your meetings to waste your time by “multitasking”?   Future blogs are coming on meeting agenda management.  As always, questions, comments, and hopefully, anecdotes welcome.  Post or email – links are below.