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The Usual Suspects: The three types of meeting-ruiner

Office with chairs around a table

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At their best, meetings are a useful business tool where opinions are voiced, problems are addressed, and tasks are distributed. They are a designated time for colleagues to communicate and re-establish a sense of vigour for their work. However, at their worst, meetings are the workplace’s version of hell. Unfortunately, this is often caused by one or two no-gooders ruining it for everyone else – you know who you are! Without any need for further introduction, here are three classic types of people that ruin meetings.

Table with chairs around it

1. The late arrival
There are two criteria that are essential for any work meeting to take place: Where? and When? Unfortunately, the late arrival never seems to get to grips with the second of these seemingly simple details. Much like many of your colleagues suspect, they probably are as useless at telling the time in their own lives as they are at work, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying, does it? Whilst their punctual mishaps might be veiled under an allure of a “fashionably late” persona for work parties, or dinner dates with their friends, the business world isn’t so fond of lateness. In fact, it will most likely frustrate everyone who has to re-iterate their new project idea or go over the meetings’ main objectives so that the late arrival doesn’t just sit there like a lemon. In dealing with a late arrival, it is not worth recapping the meeting on their behalf; firstly, because you shouldn’t punish the people that were there on time, and secondly because you’re not a parrot. We assume. Instead, take a minute or two after the meeting has finished to privately ask your late arrival why they’re late. If their excuse isn’t legitimate, remind them of the impact their tardiness on others, and encourage future punctuality.

2. The phone checker
Good meetings rely on communication, which in turn, relies on eye-contact. The phone checker has clearly given up on this essential life skill in favour of gawping at a phone screen. Research shows that we bury our heads in our phones up to 80 times a day! Engaging with such people in meetings is like watching a game of eye-contact tennis pinging back and forth between you and their trusted smartphone, and unfortunately, you often end up on the losing side. The phone checker is often in their own world, so it’s best to politely ask them to put their beloved partner away, and if you’re dealing with more than one, perhaps a ‘no phones’ meeting may be for the best.

3. The interrupter
Often interrupters are oblivious, it’s an unfortunate fact of life. Whether they were granted too much attention as children or act as ‘the talker’ of their social group, it seems they lack all the self-awareness to – “Could I add something there?” – not interrupt when people are talking.

Another tragic fact is that the interrupter doesn’t necessarily bring good ideas along with their butting-ins and tend to challenge ideas for the love of trying to improve the point that you are making. If only they could keep it to themselves for the fleeting hour in which the meeting was held, you’d have a perfect employee. But unfortunately, the world doesn’t turn for you, or the interrupter, so a balance has to be found between your annoyance and their constant desire to speak. To keep the interruptions under control, it’s often good to design the meeting with regular discussion intervals. By designating periods of the meeting to ask for further comment, people (including the interrupter) can elaborate and question to their heart's content without disrupting the flow of the meeting. It’s either that or interrupt them back, which will only lead to a shouting match, which isn’t very professional.

We’re sure that you’ve probably had enough of these meeting-ruiners at work, we all have. However, it’s important to remember that meetings are meant to be useful for everyone, including those less than cooperative parties, so it’s vital to keep meetings focused and productive.

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