Whether you work at a quirky, think-outside-the-box startup or a buttoned-up corporate office, being polite and considerate at meetings is essential – and expected. Workplace faux pas like talking over others, yawning repeatedly, eating loudly, yelling, or simply being rude aren’t going to win you any brownie points with your co-workers. Worse, these behaviors could gain you a poor reputation and damage your professional relationships.
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1. Be prepared
While it's generally not necessary to do hours of homework before a meeting, it is important to do your due diligence. Find out who will be in attendance and what their roles entail. For longer meetings, read through the agenda—or nicely ask the organizer for one if one hasn't been sent—and jot down any questions, ideas and thoughts you have.
Think about how you may be an asset to the conversation, and how your particular experience and role fits into the bigger picture. Why were you invited? Envision yourself making useful contributions to get yourself in the right mindset to add value to the meeting. If you're a bit nervous, a bit of meditation never hurts, either.
2. Be prompt (or even early)
No one enjoys the latecomer who, despite their best efforts, makes a grand entrance as a meeting is already in progress. Rather than starting a meeting off flustered, distracted, and behind, make it a point to get to a meeting on time or even a bit early. There's nothing wrong with getting into an open conference room 5-10 minutes early and collecting your thoughts. Plus, you can pick your preferred seat at the table, so to speak. If you have a scheduling conflict, let the meeting organizer know ahead of time that you'll be running late.
3. Cut out the distractions
Minimizing your distractions is not only respectful to others, but it will also help you focus on critical elements of the meeting. It should go without saying that this is not the time to catch up on "Westworld" or text back and forth with your bestie. Your best bet? Leave your phone at your desk if it will be a distraction. If you do have it with you, silence notifications and put it somewhere out of sight. Ditto for your computer. If you've brought it for meeting purposes, close out unneeded windows, silence the volume, and concentrate on the task at hand (whether that's typing notes, or looking at agenda items along with everyone else).
If you're truly paying attention to what's being said or presented, your listening skills will likely be kicking into overdrive. This is a good thing: Active listening will help you catch important details, offer valuable ideas, and make your co-workers feel their voices are heard and valued.
Don't talk over your co-workers, even if you think you have something really important to say. Chances are, if it's that important, it will stick with you and you can ask it at a later point. And if you're spending the majority of your time listening, people will listen to you when you speak because they know you choose your words wisely.
5. Be smart about food
No one wants to hear the deafening pop of gum during a key discussion, or see fried chicken grease dripping off your chin as you try to make a point. If your work culture lends itself to food in meetings, that's cool -- just be polite, and avoid refreshments of the loud/messy/smelly variety. And spread the love: If you're invited to an early morning meeting, consider bringing coffee or treats to get things off on the right foot (just make sure the organizer isn't already providing breakfast).
6. Be civil
Have you ever witnessed a shouter in a meeting? If not, consider yourself lucky: It's not pretty. While the most egregious instances may involve verbal abuse and insults toward co-workers (which, in any sane work environment, will not be tolerated), simply shouting over others to be heard or yelling to make a point rather than talking in a respectful tone are never acceptable. Not only is behavior like this distracting and off-putting, but it also creates tension and can make others in the meeting uncomfortable to contribute their ideas (or to be there at all).
The old adage "treat others the way you want to be treated" exists for a reason. If someone is arguing with you and it starts to derail the meeting, simply say "Hey, let's take this offline," and revisit the topic when cooler heads have prevailed.
7. Be a team player
While it's natural to want to express your wittiest comments and brightest ideas, keep in mind that you and your co-workers are all on the same team. Making it a priority to support others' ideas and opinions best serves the team and the company as a whole. Be generous with your praise when it's warranted, and use the "yes, and" method to encourage openness, foster a supportive environment, and decrease others' fear of being shot down. Challenge yourself to avoid the use of "but" and "no" for an entire meeting and see what happens.
8. Follow up
Meetings are a great forum for team brainstorms and fleshing out the details of complex projects, but if those actions start and stop within the four walls of the meeting room, what's the point? If you're the organizer of a meeting, send a recap of the discussion, any key takeaways, and a list of action items and next steps. And if you are not, it's still important to follow up promptly with any documents you agreed to provide, answers to outstanding questions, and resources that add value to the discussion. If you come across an article relevant to a critical meeting topic, for example, your colleagues will almost certainly appreciate you passing it along.
9. Say thank you
Thank your co-workers for the big and little things; whether someone helped expand upon an idea you had, saved you when the shouter drowned out your pitch for a project, or took the time to flesh out a concept with you for a few minutes before the meeting. You can thank them as your comfortability or the work culture dictates: Pop by their desk post-meeting, shoot them an email, or even write them a handwritten note. Your co-worker will be grateful that you noticed and took the time to tell them so.
Go into your next meeting with fresh ideas, good manners, and great contributions to make—even if your colleagues show up halfway through or use meeting-time to catch up on email, you can (and should) lead by example.