Business Meetings: Keep the Phone In Your Pocket and the Laptop Off the Table


They’re mostly terrible.

Meetings in my experience follow roughly the 10/10/80 rule.

10% of meetings are well-run, focused, productive, safe and run no longer than they need to.

Another 10% of meetings are necessary evils:
competently-run and focused in length but sadly mind-numbing in content.

The other 80% of meetings, well… They’re just terrible. Open-ended, no agenda, prone to hijacking by hyper-extroverted mansplainers, poorly-facilitated, fragmented by faction … the list of horrible meeting sins goes on and on into eyeball-stabbing infinity.

So what do you do to relieve the pain?

You pull out your phone.

You fire up the laptop.

That’s what I’ve done in the past during particularly rough meetings, and what I usually want to do now.

“At least I can be productive,” I would think.

“I use meetings as downtime to process email,” responded a majority VP-level execs to a recent study questionaire.

How sad.

When you shift your attention away from a meeting and toward your devices, you’re sending a very harsh message indeed.

You are de-valuing and even trashing the people sitting right next to you.

When you look at your device instead of the speaker, you are telling him or her “I don’t care what you are saying and I might as well not even be here.”

That may well be true, but to say it so insipidly and passive-aggressively is not very honorable at best. And downright disrespectful to your fellow human beings at worst.

The solution is painful and not immediately gratifying, and runs along the lines of the treacly “be the change you’re looking for in the universe” trope.

Basically, you need to physically fake great interest and attention in the meeting and its participants.

Occasionally, you’ll realize a self-fulfilling prophecy and the meeting will actually take a productive and interesting turn thanks to your efforts.

More likely, the meeting will still be inane and soul-crushing, but at least you will be building long-term credibility for yourself as a leader and a decent human being.

That’s good in and of itself, but it may also serve as future currency for you to ask out of meetings you don’t like, or to ask to run the ones you can’t avoid.

People will notice.

Good things will happen.

But it may take awhile.

Let me know how it goes…