5 Common Complaints About Meetings and What to Do About Them (4/5)
5. No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops.
You can tolerate some distractions when they occur irregularly, but if people are regularly typing emails or checking their texts, it can kill meaningful participation. Setting new norms starts at the top. The senior people in the meeting must model attentive verbal and nonverbal behavior. If they have side conversations, bring other work, or constantly check their technology, they’re sending the message that this meeting doesn’t really matter to them. And it creates a dangerous norm that being distracted is OK. Put an agreement in place at the beginning of the meeting to limit technology. That might sound something like this:
I would love your full attention when we are in this meeting, so please check your electronics at the door. I ask this for two reasons: First, they are distracting to me and to others. Second, your attention matters to me, to others in the room, and to the quality of our work together. If you want to put your phone on vibrate, not a problem, unless it vibrates every five minutes. Exceptions are fine; patterns are troublesome. I certainly understand if you need to leave the room at any time to check on your family or critical projects. I realize you may have calls related to projects you are tracking. Do what you need to do to feel that you’re doing your job. Please use your judgment and look out for yourself. And if you want to take notes or use your tablet to refer to background information on our topics, by all means do so. I just ask that you resist the urge to check email or world news. Deal? Thank you.
With that agreement in place, you may want to write “no devices” on the whiteboard so that you can point to it if attendees start to check their phones. If it seems overwhelming to take on the culture around devices in your company, start with yourself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly colleagues will notice that you are completely present and that others are not. And they just might join you.
Paul Axtell is an author, speaker, and corporate trainer. He is the author of two award-winning books: Meetings Matter and the recently released second edition of Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He has developed a training series, Being Remarkable, which is designed to be led by managers or HR specialists.