We’re all familiar with the basic “never’s” of life: Never wear white pants before Memorial Day, never discuss politics or religion with your in-laws, never drink the water in a foreign country, and of course the most obvious, never give an honest answer to the question, “Do you think this makes me look fat?”
That pretty much covers day-to-day living. But what about the “never’s” of the business world? Specifically, the caffeine and pastry filled world of business meetings?
People who should know better consistently violate the most basic rules for meeting etiquette. Use the tips below to make sure you’ve got the basics covered and are a role model for business meeting propriety.
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#1 – NEVER Keep Them Guessing
R.S.V.P. When asked via phone, email, or electronic calendar to attend a business meeting, be sure to reply if a reply is requested. Some meetings are structured and spaces secured on the basis of expected attendance.
Tip: If you are not sure that you can make it, it is perfectly acceptable to respond with a tentative and then make sure you include an explanation. As soon as you know for sure whether or not you can make it, change your response to the meeting request.
#2 – NEVER Show Up Late
I’m always amazed how often people ignore this simple rule. Yes, if you’re at (or near) the top, no one will dare call you to task for dashing in ten minutes late. But ever hear the phrase, “Lead by example?” If you, Mr. or Ms. Busy Executive, manage to arrive on time for every meeting, think of the message you’re sending that will trickle down to all levels. If every executive and manager in your organization commits to being on time for every meeting, employees quickly follow suit, making latecomers to meetings (and the distractions they bring) a thing of the past.
Tip: The higher up in the organization the person you are meeting is, the more important this simple rule is. Keep the CEO waiting and you’ll only have the chance to do it once. Plan on arriving at the meeting location at least 10 minutes early. You can either wait in the lobby or sit in a coffee shop around the corner and check your email if you’re too early. Then make sure you arrive for the meeting at least a couple of minutes before the actual start time.
#3 – NEVER Use Cell Phones and Laptops
Turn off your cell phone prior to the start of the meeting. If you are expecting an urgent call, then set your phone to vibrate and excuse yourself from the meeting if the call comes in. Unless laptop computers have been approved for the meeting, turn yours off and lower the screen so that you do not obstruct anyone’s view.
Tip: If you require your laptop or smartphone in the meeting, announce that you’ll be taking notes on it so people around the table don’t think you’re doing something else. If you’re using your phone or laptop, do not open instant message or check e-mail. People will – and do – notice that you’re not paying attention.
#4 – NEVER Assume You Know What’s On The Other Person’s Mind
The chairperson of the meeting should circulate a meeting agenda to each participant at least one week in advance. Participants should call the chairperson to express any concerns about the agenda at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.
Tip: Always arrive for meetings with the prepared agenda. However, before diving in, verify with the person(s) you are meeting with that their agenda hasn’t changed and that they still want to discuss what’s on the table. Aside from ensuring a productive meeting, you’ve now given the person you’re meeting some ownership for the meeting as well as a sense of control over the flow of the conversation. Quite often, making this small gesture is enough to get people talking—and you may just learn something valuable that you didn’t know before the meeting and wouldn’t have known if you’d just jumped ahead with what you’d planned to discuss.
#5 – NEVER Interrupt When Someone Is Speaking
Wait—what if what they’re saying is really, really lame? Or just plain wrong? Sorry, you still need to wait your turn. Always wait for whomever is speaking to finish what they’re saying before you speak. Not only is this polite, it sends the message to the person you’re meeting with that you’ve listened to what they had to say. Interrupting, on the other hand, sends the message that, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Not interrupting will also help hone listening skills. Too often, we’re not listening to what the other person is saying because we’re watching for them to take a breath so we can jump in with our opinion. Pay close attention to what the other person is actually saying and you’ll learn far more than you would by cutting them off.
Tip: Making sure never to interrupt someone gives you the upper hand when you point out that you listened to him or her without interrupting and you’d appreciate the same courtesy. Also, you may find that many of the questions you have about a topic are answered by the content of the meeting. Listen attentively to the meeting and take notes.
#6 – NEVER Let Them See You Sweat
Avoid nervous habits such as tapping a pen on the table, making audible noises with your mouth, rustling papers or tapping your feet on the floor. This sends the message that you are either bored or uninterested. Either way this does not send the right message to the meeting organizer and may make it seem as if you are not a team player.
Tip: In order to make sure that you do not do any of these things, have someone in the meeting give you silent notifications if you start with any of the above habits. You many also want to take a lot of notes to keep your mind on the meeting, keep your hands busy, etc.
#7 – NEVER Over-Promise
There’s no faster way to lose credibility than to promise something you can’t deliver. If during the course of your meeting you have an opportunity to offer assistance, or the person you’re meeting with asks for some sort of follow-up, be clear about what it is you’re being asked to do and then give a realistic follow-up date. Always make sure you respond by that date. If for some reason you won’t be able to make the deadline, let the person know as soon as possible. (Versus hoping you’ll be able to pull it out and then alerting them last minute that the project or task won’t be complete.) Apologize, give them the new date by which you’ll have the action completed, and make sure you deliver by that date.
Tip: Establishing a reputation as the person who can be depended on to deliver what they say they will, when they say they will can take you far. Starting right now, vow to follow-through on each and every promise you make.
#8 – NEVER Call Someone By The Wrong Name
Duh, right? But how many times have you had someone say to you (or you’ve said yourself), “I’m sorry—tell me your name again? I’m so bad with names…” If you have a hard time remembering names, find a work around. Nothing sounds so sweet to the human ear as the sound of our own name. It’s not enough to come close. Remembering and using someone’s name is a quick and easy way to establish warmth and trust in a business relationship.
Tip: If the person you’re meeting has a difficult or unusual name, ask someone for the correct pronunciation ahead of time—then practice. If there’s no chance to prepare, politely ask the person for the correct pronunciation (they’re probably used to this) and repeat it back to them. Then do whatever it takes to remember it—mental repetition, or step aside to quickly write down the phonetic spelling in your notebook.
#9 – NEVER leave a meeting before it is over
Attend the Entire Meeting. Leave only when the meeting is adjourned. Leaving before the end of the meeting— unless absolutely necessary and unless you have prior permission—can be disruptive to other attendees and inconsiderate of the speaker.
Tip: If you know before the meeting that you may have to leave early let the owner of the meeting know that. Then make sure you sit at a place that will allow you to leave with the least amount of disruption to the meeting. If you have to leave before the meeting is 50% complete, unless you are playing a critical role early, then decline to attend the meeting stating that you have a conflict.
#10 – NEVER leave the meeting without a list of action items
Then respond to all Action Items. After the meeting, be sure to complete any tasks assigned to you as expeditiously as possible.
Tip: You should file your meeting notes or any formalized minutes for later review or to prepare for future meetings.
Business meetings are a staple in business today so use them wisely and productively. Remember these tips so that you can maximize the time you spend in meetings.
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Have a great day filled with successful and productive meetings!