Most of us walk into meetings concerned about one person – ourselves. We’re not usually looking out for other participants or thinking about how to support the person leading the meeting. We sit where we feel most comfortable, and we speak when we feel like it or not at all.
This is natural, of course, but few people realize how detrimental it can actually be. The mindset you have when entering a meeting will determine how you participate. And how you participate in meetings is incredibly important to your career – it impacts how your colleagues view you and whether or not you’re considered a team player.
I’ve always loved the story about three kinds of people – the ones who make things happen, the ones who watch things happen, and the ones who wonder what happened. There is a fundamental difference between experiencing life directly and watching it from a distance. Why not choose to participate in a way that allows you to make a difference?
So, first things first: double check your attitude. Are you walking in with the right perspective? Here are a few mantras I like to use:
- Everything matters. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
- There is no place to get to – right here, right now is where my attention needs to be.
- Every meeting is an opportunity to move the topics forward.
Next, give the meeting your focused attention. Distractions are harmful to meetings – and multitasking is a distraction both to the person doing it and to the other people in the group. “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits,” explains Clifford Nass, co-author of a Stanford study on multitasking. “They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks – including multitasking.”
The harm in multitasking is twofold. First, your attention matters to everyone else in the room – especially to the person speaking. Speaking to a group that is not paying attention is distracting at the least and hurtful at worst. Second, if you’re multitasking, you miss the subtleties in what people say and the nonverbal cues in how they say it. If you are distracted, you miss what is not said. You miss being able to building on their thinking.
And while it’s difficult to watch yourself as you perform, it is possible to become more self-aware of how you behave. You can reflect on your speaking right after you finish. You can be aware of how fully you listen and pay attention. You can be aware of your posture and nonverbal cues.
- Speaking more often or longer than necessary.
- Providing more detail or examples than people need.
- Using humor that discounts the previous speaker or
- Using nonverbal behavior that is distracting or
- Being blunt to the point where people see it as uncivil.
- Not being willing to take on work between meetings.
- Resisting someone else’s comments rather than working to understand them.
- Not speaking up when the conversation is off track or unclear.
- Not treating the meeting as if it really matters.
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Do, however, get to work preparing for meetings.