If you're like most people, you're not too fond of all the meetings you get stuck attending at work. But have you ever considered whether your co-workers are sick of having you in their meetings, because you engage in behavior that derails or disrupts the conversation? After all, most meeting derailers don't realize that their behavior is annoying others.
Here are the top 10 ways you might be frustrating colleagues in meetings.
1. Arriving late. Showing up late to a meeting is disrespectful to other attendees who arrived on time. Even worse is showing up late and then expecting the conversation to halt while you're caught up to speed. The occasional late arrival might be unavoidable, but if you make a habit of it, assume that your co-workers notice and are annoyed.
2. Reading email or checking your phone while other people are talking. This is just plain rude and says to other meeting attendees, "I don't want to be here and I'm not paying attention." If you believe your time isn't being well spent in the meeting, ideally you wouldn't accept the meeting invitation in the first place. If that decision was made by your manager or someone above you, then you should either push back and explain why it's not a good use of your time. Or accept that they think you should be there, so it's in your career's best interests for you to not blatantly do something else.
3. Monopolizing the conversation. This is a meeting, not a speech. If you feel you need to comment on everything, and comment at length, you might be a monopolizer. Try staying quieter and see if the conversation proceeds just fine without constant contributions from you.
4. Not speaking at all. Obviously, there are some meetings where you're only there to listen. But if it's a brainstorming meeting or a meeting to discuss a project, you're expected to participate and not sit silently while others do the work.
5. Making every discussion longer than it needs to be. If you have questions about every topic that comes up, won't let anything be tabled until you've thoroughly discussed it from all angles, derail the agenda with unrelated items and make the group sit through long debates of issues that ultimately don't need to be resolved at this particularly meeting, rest assured that your colleagues are wishing terrible fates upon you. Let people get through the meeting and back to work.
6. Eating. Bring a bottle of water, sure, but think twice before breaking out a sandwich or a salad while no one else is eating. It's frustrating for other attendees to try to focus on the conversation while your sandwich crumbs are flying or your mouth is full of lettuce.
7. Not preparing. If you're asked to do reading in advance of the meeting or come prepared with thoughts on a particular topic, do it. You might be able to get away with skipping the preparation once or twice, but if you make a habit of it, it will start to become noticeable that you're not able to contribute as much as other people. And it's unfair to other attendees to have to wait while you catch up on what's being discussed.
8. Being rude or adversarial. You don't have to like what you hear at a given meeting, but you're expected to remain polite and professional. Attacking your colleagues, rolling your eyes or being sarcastic will ensure your co-workers give you a wide berth in the future.
9. Always playing devil's advocate. You might think that you're playing a valuable role by playing devil's advocate, but if that's your role at every meeting, chances are high that your colleagues wish nothing more than that you'd simply stay silent for once. It's valuable to question assumptions and look for holes in plans, but if that's all you do, you'll get a reputation for being difficult and negative.
10. Running meetings where you allow bad behavior from others. If you get a reputation for holding meetings that don't start or end on time, lack an agenda and produce few decisions, your colleagues will begin to dread your meetings—and the ones who have the power not to show up likely won't. Make sure that when you're leading a meeting, you're truly leading it—keeping the discussion on track and moving toward real outcomes.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.