All those devices people use during meetings to stay connected to the outside, affect the quality of your meeting. This week I’m offering a short except from my book, Meeting Hero. It will provide you with some ideas about how to solve the problem.
Dealing with Digitally Distracted Meeting Participants
We’ll start with an easy one. The most obvious examples are people who show up with a laptop, open it, and keep their email visible at all times. Some even type away in plain view.
The less obvious, and much more common, are those who stay connected via their phones. Some lay the phone on the table and make no attempt to hide their activities. Others seem to know they are behaving badly and try to keep their activities hidden under the table.
In most meetings, there are typically a couple of people doing this. If I’m in a room with lots of IT professionals or salespeople, I tend to see many more participants who are distracted by their devices.
While I can’t prove it, I’m confident that in virtual meetings you can safely assume more than half the people split their attention between email or text messages and the content of your meeting. And by the way, in the battle for attention, I bet your meeting isn’t winning.
On the surface, it would appear that this behavior isn’t creating problems. If you confront them, they’ll likely argue, “Who am I hurting?” They’ll also try to convince you that they are great multi-taskers.
Devices are Distrating
When they make that argument with me, I am happy to point out three specific problems created by their behavior. Foremost, the behavior is distracting. People who think the meeting is important and are doing their best to contribute notice these folks. They feel irritated at what they interpret as rudeness and lose their focus on the work at hand.
Often the offenders will counter with “But I don’t mean anything by it. I just have a lot of work to do.” The message is that others should not be offended. I’m afraid that doesn’t work. People have learned the rules about what constitutes polite behavior and don’t easily change their point of view when someone violates them.
Devices Contribute to Waste
The second problem is they are contributing to meeting waste. They are, after all, in the meeting. If distracted, they aren’t doing a great job of taking care of business inside or outside the conference room. We want everyone’s full effort. Anything less represents waste.
Devices Slow Progress
The final problem is that they slow meeting progress. Let’s assume you invited them for a reason. They have knowledge and skills you need in order to achieve your meeting goal. If they aren’t fully engaged, you don’t get from them what they could contribute. The net result is a meeting that is not as efficient or effective as it could be.
Lay Down the Law
Here’s how you handle this problem. First, you establish a rule that everyone can live with. I would suggest creating an expectation that includes the following components:
- The only laptop opened and running during the meeting will be that of the note taker.
- All devices should be turned off or in silent mode. Vibrations are distracting.
- We need everyone’s full attention on the meeting agenda.
- If you absolutely need to monitor a situation, then leave the room to respond.
Now I’m not promising all will agree to this. I’ve found that IT and sales people typically resist these controls. One just loves the tech. The other needs to always be alert for some urgent deal. In these environments, you’ll need to make the case why your list of expectations is critical for the meeting’s success. You may also need to work out a compromise.
Enforce the Rules
Once the agreement is made, it’s your job to enforce the rules. If you have a high-functioning team, others might help, but let’s assume it’s up to you. Here’s the enforcement approach I would suggest. First, remind people of the rules at the beginning of every meeting. This proactive measure is a good counter to people who are likely to forget. Second, people who are visibly breaking the rules should be immediately reminded to tune back into the meeting.
The hardest will be the ones who are trying to sneak a peek. Because they may be reasonably successful in shielding their activities from others, you might not want to point it out in front of the group. Doing so creates more of a distraction than the activity itself. At a break or after the meeting, check in with the person. Here’s what to say. “I noticed you on your phone during the meeting even though our agreement was that people weren’t going to do that.”
If she thought she could get away with it, bringing it to her attention shows her that she did not, and this will hopefully discourage the behavior in the future. If she just can’t live by the rules, engage in a conversation about why and how the rules should be changed at subsequent meetings.
Other Trouble-Makers are Addressed in the Book
There you have it. If you like what you read and want to learn how to deal with other trouble-makers, the book addresses people behaving badly in the following ways:
- side conversations
- going off topic
- discussion domination
Get your copy of Meeting Hero on Amazon, and learn how rid your meetings of bad behavior.