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Business Meeting Etiquette
You learned the essence of business etiquette in kindergarten. Be polite, take turns, don’t shout or call names, think about others. Now that we’re grown up, we should be good at applying these rules to business meetings. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we need a few reminders on how to conduct ourselves.
What is meeting etiquette? When it comes to describing business meeting etiquette, while most of us have a basic understanding of meeting etiquette meaning, Wikipedia provides pages about this. Meeting etiquette 2019 is no different from 1990 when it comes to the basics. We have meeting etiquette images that consist of people discussing the topic at hand in a rational and orderly fashion. Few of us find bad meetings funny. We’ve seen examples of poorly run meetings that make us wince at the recollection.
Basically, business meeting etiquette is attitude and conduct that considers the feelings and dignity of everyone present yet moves the meeting forward in a constructive manner. It’s a framework for ensuring all points of view are heard and decisions are made appropriately.
Why business meeting etiquette matters
Why is meeting etiquette important? For starters, nothing can torpedo a meeting like bad etiquette. Poor meeting behavior doesn’t just keep the meeting from achieving its immediate goals. People walk away with bitterness. These folks will have to work together in the future. The discordance coming out of a bad meeting experience can disrupt workplace relationships for months and years.
On the positive side, knowing how to practice proper business meeting etiquette establishes a framework where everyone knows what to expect. Over time, parties feel comfortable going into a meeting. They know how to behave and how others will behave.
Good business meeting etiquette ensures that meetings are conducted with a degree of professionalism. Meetings start on time, run on schedule and end expeditiously. Goals are accomplished. Followup tasks are documented and taken away to be acted upon. Meetings can be an imposition on valuable employee time and participants approach meetings with a more positive attitude when they know they’re going to be conducted politely and efficiently.
It’s as your kindergarten teacher said. Everybody is happier when everyone plays nice.
Establishing best practices for business meeting etiquette
If we all learned etiquette in kindergarten, and we all agree that etiquette is the foundation for positive working relationships, shouldn’t good business etiquette just happen on its own? Shouldn’t our inherent desire to do the right thing keep etiquette at the forefront?
Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Humans get impatient, they’re eager to be heard and they often think their ideas are better than those of others. They can be in a hurry to get done and get back to work. That’s why it’s useful for an organization to establish a top-down company-wide initiative to define meeting etiquette best practices and to propagate these practices throughout the business.
The specifics of an etiquette practice depend largely on the culture of an organization. For example, in some companies funny icebreaker videos for meetings will be a good way to kick off, whereas in others such activities might be considered inappropriate.
Training sessions and materials will be helpful for anybody who conducts a lot of meetings. These might include a discussion of meeting etiquette do’s and dont’s. A goal of these sessions would be to establish a core of etiquette leaders throughout the organization. The training doesn’t have to be somber. You could even use funny board meeting videos and funny office meeting videos to bring home the difference between a meeting with good etiquette practices and one not quite as well conducted.
The company and its etiquette leaders could be tasked with the selection of materials to raise corporate-wide awareness of the desired business etiquette practices. There are examples available of a meeting etiquette PDF and a professional etiquette PDF. They could adopt or develop a business etiquette and professionalism PDF. A business meeting etiquette PPT deck would be great to inform everyone of expected business etiquette practices and get the whole company on board. A meeting etiquette poster might be placed in all the major conference rooms to reinforce the practices.
When senior management takes steps to establish meeting etiquette practices, the battle is on the way to being won.
Ways meeting organizers can show etiquette in business meetings
The meeting organizer has the key role in ensuring that business etiquette is practiced in meetings. Whether they plan adequately in advance can make the difference between meeting success and failure.
Before the meeting starts, they should:
- Clearly define in their own mind the scope of the meeting.
- Send out a detailed agenda well in advance using a meeting tool like Docket.
- Double check the attendee list to ensure everyone who’s needed is invited and everyone who’s not is left alone to attend to other work.
- Communicate with key participants to ensure they’re ready to do what they need to.
In addition, they can state in the meeting invite that business etiquette practices will be observed and possibly attach are workplace etiquette PDF or another reminder of what those practices are.
The actual running of the meeting is a bit trickier because the meeting leader can be called upon to put a stop to etiquette violations by attendees. If there is an established etiquette procedure, they can get ahead of potential problems by pointing out what the rules are and insisting that the participants will stick to them.
There are a number of things the leader should do during the meeting but just about all of them fall under the umbrella of being courteous and respectful: respectful of people, respectful of their ideas, respectful of their time.
The meeting leader should:
- Start the meeting on time. This can vary depending on corporate culture. In some organizations meetings are expected to start on the dot and in others a few minutes of small talk are the norm. In any case the meeting needs to get down to business in a timely order.
- As far as possible, stick to the time allotted for each item on the agenda. Sometimes issues arise that make this impossible, but in those cases it should be clear how the time-boxing has changed and why.
- Ensure every voice is heard. Encourage the quieter participants to speak and the more vocal ones to wait while they do.
- Bring the group back if the meeting is wandering off-topic.
- Be flexible in the tone of the meeting. In some companies and for some topics a little meeting comedy is just fine, while in other cases it’s frowned on.
Foremost, a meeting leader must practice what they preach. Even if they have the floor most of the time, they must sometimes defer to others. They must listen seriously and attentively to what everyone says. They must extend basic courtesy not only to those present but also in talking about people who aren’t there.
Ways meeting attendees can show etiquette in business meetings
The meeting leader can’t ensure by themselves that business etiquette is practiced. Meeting etiquette for attendees is equally important.
Attendees need to:
- Prepare. Read the agenda in advance and be ready to participate as their role requires. They should also be familiar with any workplace etiquette PDF so they’ll have in mind the etiquette that’s expected.
- If an agenda is not provided, feel empowered to request one. A meeting tool like Docket provides a subtle option to politely request an agenda when one is not provided.
- Be on time.
- Give their focus to the meeting. Don’t be making notes about what they’re going to do later today.
- Avoid side conversations.
- Not interrupt.
- Be attentive to other speakers. Be polite even if they think a weak idea is being presented. Even if they find meeting etiquette funny and don’t see its importance, they need to bear with it.
Showing etiquette in internal business meetings
Some people are polite to strangers but less considerate with friends and family. In the same way, some business people put on their best face when meeting with outsiders but are less thoughtful in dealing with their colleagues.
It shouldn’t be this way. Internal meeting etiquette is just as important as etiquette with the rest of the world. In some ways it’s more important, because in internal meetings you interact with people you’ll have to work with every day for months and years to come. The quality of staff meeting etiquette has potential to affect ongoing relationships both positively and negatively.
The principles of meeting etiquette, and the basic practices that the leader and the participants should follow, are the same for any kind of meeting. The biggest difference is that internal meetings may allow for a lower degree of formality. For example, it may be permissible to have a little more small talk time at the beginning of the meeting. The important thing is not to let that informality slip into a lack of courtesy and respect. No matter how many times you’ve seen your co-worker today, listen when they speak and address them with the same respect you give the person you see only occasionally.
Showing etiquette in external business meetings
Most people put on their best manners when meeting outside the company. The principles of business etiquette don’t change, but there is an additional challenge when people don’t know each other and come from organizations that may have differing cultures and practices.
There will need to be a period of introduction and some clarification around roles. The important thing here is to treat all people, even those who seem to have less prestigious status, with the same courtesy and respect.
Courtesy and respect. Approach everyone in every meeting with these principles in mind, and we’ll all make our kindergarten teachers proud.