small group meeting

Love ’em or hate ’em, for a lot of us, meetings are simply a reality. Maybe your organization has a weekly gathering for the department heads, or your boss insists on getting the whole team together each Thursday morning, or perhaps you sit down with the sales team twice a month to go over how you can help each other reach your overlapping goals. Whatever the reason for the meeting, they’re probably a part of your professional life, and how you handle yourself within them is important if you want to be respected and viewed as competent.

You can bet I’m not talking about the obvious no-nos either. I would hope you don’t doze off, leave your text message alert sounds on, or speak out of turn and condescendingly to other people. Those are amateur moves, but there are a bunch of other things you may be doing without even realizing the damage they’re causing your reputation. Read on so you can immediately shut them down:

1. You Don’t Pay Attention

Look, we all have to deal with the occasional wandering mind. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when a presentation is long or a speaker adopts a monotonous tone. But this tendency to totally lose track of the conversation around you can prove to be a big problem if you get called upon to offer feedback or if you suddenly decide to jump into the conversation after 10 minutes of zoning out.

And, actually it can be an even bigger problem if the reason you don’t know what’s being said is due to the fact that you’re focusing only on what you’re going to say next. Career Coach Bruce Eckfeldt calls this a “killer and unfortunately quite common.” He notes that it’s off-putting when you make a remark that doesn’t flow with the rest of the conversation, but worse, “disastrous” in fact, is when “you repeat the exact same thing someone said.” Not only does it undermine your credibility, says Eckfeldt, but it also makes you seem disrespectful of people’s time.

The way around this, aside from listening intently and giving your colleagues the respect they deserve is to arrive to all meetings as prepared as possible. This, explains, Eckfeldt, “allows you to focus on the details of the conversation rather than trying to get up to speed.” Taking notes is another good option, the idea being that by writing down snippets of what other people are saying, you’ll effectively be unable to get “stuck in your own head thinking about your next point,” Eckfeldt says.

2. You Are Too Negative

The inclination to speak up and offer input that goes beyond agreeing what the leader has said, nodding in agreement, or commenting that her points are “interesting” and “great ideas,” may mean you’re actually coming across as too negative too often. Of course, it’s OK to offer an alternative point of view or express a thought that’s contrary to what the other person is suggesting, but if your go-to to get a word in is playing devil’s advocate, you’re doing something wrong. Human Resources expert Tania P. MacDonald admits that she’s struggled with this very thing herself. In meetings, she admits she’s often inclined to play this instigating role “in order to get to the point of making a decision,” even though she knows that “always being negative helps no one.”

It’s better to find and present a solution, even if it means you’re the last person in the room to speak up. Taking time to collect your thoughts in an effort to not blurt out something negative simply because it’s the first thing that you can think to utter will not serve you well in the long run. Wouldn’t you rather be known as the person who problem solves as opposed to the guy who inevitably finds something pessimistic to point out?

3. You’re on Your Phone

I find this behavior not only incredibly rude, but also highly unprofessional, and I wish more organizations would ban phones in meetings because too many people just don’t get the problem with it. Muse Career Coach Rajiv Nathan says that although it may seem obvious (clearly to some but not to all), a lot of professionals "aren’t aware that it’s a problem.” Nathan says that because holding your phone in your hand is such an instinctive habit, people genuinely don’t realize it’s not OK.

MacDonald agrees, saying, “If you are in a meeting, be in the meeting. Don’t use this as a chance to catch up on email or other work.” Sure, it can be tempting to carry it with you wherever you go around the office, but it’s not the way to demonstrate professionalism and respect for those you’re sitting with. Unless you’re awaiting an urgent call pertained to come kind of personal emergency, leave your cell on your desk or in your bag; it’ll be there waiting for you when you return.

While these are the three big issues, there are also smaller don’ts that catch people. Depending on your office culture, eating may or may not be appropriate. Watch that your body language doesn’t suggest that you’d rather be anywhere but where you are, and avoid the obvious: loud gum-smacking, getting up often to leave the room for calls, burying yourself in your laptop instead of the deck being presented. Trust me when I say that the last thing you want is one of the senior people in your company writing you off as unprofessional because you don’t know how to handle yourself in a standard office meeting.

Updated 6/19/2020