Disengagement During Meetings

By Beth Armknecht Miller, Special to Overdrive

Have you ever been in a meeting where one person decided to display a negative attitude? You know, the person who starts reading their personal digital assistant (PDA), or the other one who suddenly falls quiet, or what about the one who starts to slide down his chair to the floor. Well, if you are the one in charge of the meeting, what is your role in this dysfunction? I recently heard a speaker, who was talking about the culture of accountability say, “You get what you put up with.”  Bad behavior and rudeness happen because people continually get away with it.

So lets break down bad behavior into three primary categories:

1. Disengaged
2. Negative
3. Rude

Because of the proliferation of PDAs, I want to specifically discuss the scenario of disengagement.  Reading PDAs and “multi-tasking” have become common place in business meetings. So you are leading a meeting and notice that one or more participants are texting or reading email on their smartphones. What options do you have at this point in time? First, you need to assess if this is a theme or an instance i.e. does the person disengaging have a reputation for checking out and not actively participating or is this something unusual for the team member.  As the leader of the team you have the following options:

  • You can ignore the behavior, limiting the team to less than high performance, and continue the dysfunction by not managing the bad behavior. If this is your choice, you may want to reevaluate why you are managing a team.
  • You have the option of communicating to the person that you recognize they are not currently part of the meeting. Ask them “Is there’s something urgent that you need to take care of at this time?” It may be that an emergency has come up which she needs to address.  If this is the case and she plays a key role, you can reschedule the meeting.  If she isn’t key to the meeting, then dismiss her to her emergency.  However, in my experience this usually isn’t the case.
  • You can wait until after the meeting to pull the person aside to discuss what was driving the behavior. If there wasn’t an emergency, find out how they think their behavior impacts the meeting, other team members and their effectiveness in the job.
  • You can wait for an opportunity to ask her a pointed question that is specific to the conversation, such as “What do you think of Rick’s idea?” This will either bring the person back into the conversation and/or will create a moment of embarrassment. Depending on their response, you may need to have a one-on-one follow-up conversation with them.
  • Or you can address the whole team and open the discussion to everyone. What are their thoughts about team members checking out? What would their suggestions be to become a more high performing team and have everyone engaged? This option may uncover some process or content issues with your meetings that you haven’t considered may be part of the disengaging behaviors.

As a leader, it is your choice whether to allow the dysfunction to continue, or address the issue and set the tone for more productive meetings that will lead to team success.


Categories: LEADERSHIP


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