- Q: How to deal with someone ignoring the agreed meeting etiquette?
A: It’s important that any intervention is firm, but not aggressive – you don’t want to make things worse. However, you need to confront whoever is ignoring the agreed etiquette and not let it pass, otherwise everyone else will think that etiquette is optional.
You should remind the meeting what has been agreed on etiquette and point out whoever is not following the agreed protocol. When confronting the problem, don’t criticise the person but make it clear that their behaviour is unacceptable. Also try to give them some positive feedback – e.g. point out where they have been following the agreed standards. It will also help if you can collectively find better ways of working in the meeting, being ready to amend the etiquette if everyone can agree on any improvements.
- Q: I walked into a meeting where everyone was dressed very casually while I was in a full 3 piece suit and tie and felt very uncomfortable. How do I avoid this in future?
A: You might want to make little joke of being over-dressed (the same would apply if the position was reversed and you were dressed much more casually than the other attendees). If you do, you need to be tactful about how you do this.
Alternatively, and assuming no-one else brings it up, you could ignore your faux pas, try to minimise your discomfort, and focus on the meeting – if you make a really positive contribution the others probably won’t mind you being dressed differently.
If you are unfamiliar with the meeting attendees and/or don’t know what the organisation culture is, it’s best to check the dress code before attending a meeting.
- Q: What is the best time to arrive for a meeting?
A: A few minutes before the scheduled start is usually best. Give yourself enough time so you are ready to start the meeting bang on time. If you spend a few minutes getting yourself organised at the start of the meeting, it’ll give the impression of being late, even if you arrived on time.
Don’t forget to check any joining instructions – they may help you decide when to arrive, for example if refreshments are scheduled before the meeting, it gives you a wider time-window for arrival.
You do need to be aware of the culture, particularly if you’re not familiar with the other attendees. Being a few minutes early gives you the opportunity for personal introductions in advance of the meeting.
Also, in some organisations, arriving on time is equated with being late.
If the culture is for everyone to arrive late for meetings, it’s still advisable to be a bit early – just in case that particular meeting bucks the trend and starts on time.
- Q: How to deal with colleagues arriving late to a meeting I’ve organised?
A: This depends on how well you know your colleagues and what their other commitments are. There’s no point getting too exercised about punctuality if the latecomers have valid reasons for being late.
If you’re all part of a close-knit team, you should sort this out amicably – perhaps even humorously.
Otherwise, you should remind the latecomers what the agreed start time was and ask them to be punctual next time.
- Q: What should I tell a customer (or supplier) when my colleague fails to show up for a meeting?
A: Obviously you need to apologise. You should try to call your colleague to find out what is going on and let the customer / supplier know why your colleague has failed to show up,
If you can proceed with the meeting without your colleague, you should do so. But if you need to rearrange the meeting, make sure that the customer / supplier is inconvenienced as little as possible.
- Q: Is it appropriate to mute others on a video call?
A: In general, it’s best that you give people the opportunity to mute themselves first.
In large video conferences, it’s a good idea to ask everyone to mute themselves except when it’s their turn to speak.
It’s poor manners and rather unprofessional to mute someone without good reason (such as distracting feedback or background noises). But if you can’t avoid it, and the meeting is being disrupted, you can mute others as a last resort.
- Q: I am joining a meeting full of far higher grades than me and feel a bit intimidated by them. How can I contribute without feeling restrained?
A: Unless you are in a setting with a formal hierarchy, you shouldn’t let others’ seniority restrain you. Try not to be intimidated and to carry out your role in the meeting as you would with colleagues of a similar grade to you. Of course, you don’t want to appear cocky or arrogant, you want give out an aura of calm professionalism.
There are various mental tricks to help boost your self-confidence when dealing with more senior people, for example imagining them in an informal or even vulnerable setting, or in a situation where they need your help and expertise.
- Q: How to act in a meeting when everyone is much higher graded than me?
A: You should try to act as you would in any meeting with colleagues, although you might want to act more formally than you would with colleagues from a close-knit team. Try not to be intimidated and to carry out your role in the meeting as you would normally.
It’s natural to be a bit more nervous in this sort of situation, but try to harness any nerves by being extra attentive. Ideally, you want appear calm, authoritative and professional.
- Q: What is the best way to recover from a minor breach of etiquette?
A: It’s usually not a good idea to ignore breaches of etiquette, however minor. But neither is it productive to blow a minor breach into a major issue. So recovering from a minor breach of etiquette first requires an acknowledgment of the breach and then relies on your interpersonal skills.
- Q: What is the best way to recover from a major breach of etiquette?
A: As with a minor breach of etiquette, the first point is to acknowledge the breach. Then it depends how upset everyone is – in the worst case you may have to suspend the meeting and reconvene later when people feel able to work together again. How you recover will depend on your interpersonal skills and also the goodwill of the other attendees.
- Q: What should you do if a colleague is not briefed on cross-cultural meeting etiquette?
A: The main thing is to avoid this problem arising. If you have a cross-cultural meeting coming up, it is best to brief all the participants in advance as to how the meeting will be conducted and highlight any particular points of etiquette that need to be followed. These could also be reiterated at the start of the meeting to cover anyone who might have missed the advanced briefing.
- Q: How do you politely deal with an important person who is a mumbler?
A: This is a problem that is often easier to solve in virtual meetings, as then it is quite legitimate to ask people to speak more clearly and/or adjust their microphone.
In face-to-face meetings, you should be tactful in raising this, and you could explain that you have a problem hearing them – so you don’t make the mumbler feel solely responsible.
- Q: What to do if some people keep coming to meetings completely unprepared?
A: It depends why this is happening. Are they unprepared because they haven’t been briefed, or the joining instructions were inadequate, or they’re too busy on other matters? Finding the reason for the unpreparedness will generally lead you towards a solution.
- Q: What to do when people start going off course by accident / habit?
A: It is good practice in larger meetings (say, more than 10 attendees) to nominate a person to keep watch for people going off-topic – in smaller meetings this would be part of the chair’s role.
Usually you can get people back on topic by gently reminding the meeting of the point of the discussion (either the agenda item or the objective of the meeting). If this divergence keeps recurring, you may need to discuss this behaviour with the offending person outside the meeting.
- Q: What to do when a person is trying to sabotage a meeting?
A: You need to confront this behaviour and try to find out WHY someone appears to be trying to sabotage the meeting – they might not be aware that this is the effect of their behaviour.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to ask the saboteur to leave or suspend the meeting and reconvene later without that person present (or when tempers have cooled and people can work together again).