The Four People You Don’t Want in Your Meetings

If we had a nickel for every meeting we’ve sat in that was completely unnecessary, we’d be rolling in dough. Unfortunately, meetings are an unavoidable part of corporate culture, whether you’re at a big or small outfit.  Of course, we’ve all been invited to meetings with 20-plus people, no schedule, goals, or next steps and afterwards lamented the myriad ways in which we could have spent the last two hours more effectively. In fact, a recent survey by recruitment firm Robert Half International showed 28 per cent of meetings were viewed as unnecessary or unproductive and executives felt preparation time, meetings and follow-up represented a significant block of time they could better spend elsewhere.

When done correctly, meetings can be a great place to communicate your ideas and thoughts, brainstorm with others and raise important questions. You have a captive audience, a goal in mind, and a platform that lends itself to discussion. Some people, however, don’t know the right way to participate in meetings and, as a result, can derail the whole process.

Here are the four types of communicators we’ve witnessed in meetings time and time again (and wished we hadn’t):

The Mute: This person sits at the table but may as well be invisible because she doesn’t say a peep during the entire meeting. In fact, she is so silent that other people in the room either don’t even notice her presence or truly believe she doesn’t have the ability to speak. Often “the mute” stays quiet because she is afraid that she’ll say something stupid or wrong and believes that it’s better not to say anything at all. To the contrary, when in a meeting, you want to be noticed (for the right reasons); but if you don’t speak up, no one will ever value your input. Not every idea will be a home run but if you offer nothing, you’ll never have the opportunity to let your voice be heard. And someone who never says a word isn’t likely to be seen as a candidate for a great job, promotion or plum assignment.

The Monopolizer: This type is the opposite of The Mute. He doesn’t shut up during meetings and rarely lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. He wants his ideas to be heard so badly that he becomes oblivious to the fact that other people may want to participate in the conversation. While it’s advisable to chime in and have a say, a meeting is a group activity and no one person should monopolize the floor, even if he is the meeting leader. Just as important as lending your ideas is listening to those of others around you. It shows respect and that you’re a team player versus coming across as self-absorbed and obnoxious–qualities that won’t endear you to colleagues, bosses or clients.

The Time Waster: This is the person who calls a meeting just for the sake of having one, with no real agenda in mind. Jessica used to work with an executive who held a weekly meeting that she had to attend. She dreaded every Tuesday morning because no matter how many times she requested an agenda in advance from the guy, she never got one. He also showed up late every week so the attendees had to repeat their updates for him and, as punishment for his tardiness, we all had to hear the same information twice. It was painful and a huge waste of time for everyone in the room. Finally Jessica decided to tell the executive that she had another meeting that followed (she didn’t really) and only had 30 minutes to attend his. She offered to give her PR update at the beginning of the meeting and when the clock struck a half-hour, she excused herself and promised to get notes later on. She never missed anything important and, best of all, gained 30 minutes back into her day to accomplish other things.

The Multitasker: This person absolutely cannot focus her attention on just one thing at a time. She will sit in a meeting and type away on her blackberry or iPhone under the table (as if no one notices!), talk to coworkers or read something unrelated to the meeting. Now multitasking can be good when appropriate but meetings are not the place to try to do many things at once. First of all, it’s rude. Secondly, it takes your brain away from the subject of the get-together and, as a result, will prevent you from contributing anything worthy. And third, it sends a clear message to others in the room that they’re not as important as whatever e-mail or article you’re reading. We recently instituted a rule: No blackberries in our staff meetings. Remember life before PDAs, smartphones and iPhones? People simply had to wait until you got back to your desk to get in touch with you–and somehow we survived just fine. Today, most people feel as though you’ve cut off a limb if they have to be away from their blackberry for five minutes, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to allow yourself to be attentive, creative and strategic without any interruptions from e-mail or texts.

The point? You want to avoid falling into any of these four categories; but, what’s more, you want to try to steer clear of attending meetings with these folks. So how can you do that?

1. Don’t attend any meeting without an agenda.

2. Try to give your update towards the beginning of the middle so you can duck out if you need to.

3. Don’t leave a meeting without recapping the next steps with everyone in the room.

4. And, lastly, if you’re getting pulled into so many ineffectual meetings that you’re not able to get your work done, skip the ones you really don’t need to be in and ask for minutes after, suggest that it be a conference call instead of an in-person get-together (that way, you can get some e-mails answered while you listen — although you do want to pay attention or it’s just as bad as being on your mobile device in a meeting), or carve out certain days or hours during the week when you’re available for meetings and only attend ones that are scheduled during those times.

What do you like/dislike about meetings and what are your tips for dealing with them? Tell us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

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