By this time of the year – how many meetings have you attended? How many of these have been a total waste of your time? Does one person dominate the meeting? Is it swamped with trivia or unrelated information?
From time to time, it is necessary to go back to career advice basics and send out a reminder about the everyday forgotten "rules" of office behavior. Sometimes we get so comfortable in our jobs and with our co–workers that we overlook a simple common courtesy or blend social and business interaction within the confines of the corporate environment much too freely.
Let us guide you through the fundamentals of Business Etiquette. This workshop will equip you to better present yourself at work and project a professional impression relevant for today’s working world:
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Meeting Management
Principles for Productive Meetings
For most chairing a meeting means reading out the agenda – if there is one! Below are some principles; which if followed can result in efficient meetings where everyone feels their opinion is valued and the job gets done.
No place for ego. As the Chair Person you are the facilitator. Listen carefully, use open ended questions to obtain reasoning and to involve others.
No gadgets: State that no distractions will be tolerated eg cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDA’s) and laptops. Ask to have these gadgets turned off at their outset. It’s hard to compete with human distractions, let alone electronic ones as well.
Be clear about the purpose of the meeting. Do you want to brainstorm possibilities? Identify implications of ideas already identified? Or determine detail?
Be prepared. Create the agenda, have supporting documents prepared and circulated in advance so that others are informed.
Introductions. Ensure all parties are introduced from the beginning, keep it short and simple. Give the time frame e.g. "When introducing yourself give a brief outline of your experience in no more than a minute."
Set clear objectives. "By the end of the meeting we need to have achieved ... We are going to concentrate on principles today so let’s not elaborate on detail for the moment."
Set out high expectations. Always start punctually. If you wait for late–comers–they will assume it is acceptable to be late. Be clear about end times too.
Involve all parties. If certain people are uninvolved or distracted–ask questions "Thuli–so what do you think about ...?"
Keep the meeting on track. Identify how the minutes will be recorded, summarise the discussion, identify points for action, who will do what, the time scale for action, how things will be monitored and by whom and when.
Set the tone. Do not tolerate aggression, bullying. If colleagues are going to give of their best they need to know that all contributions are valued, that they will get credit for their ideas and that the whole organisation is strengthened by their collective success rather than scoring points off one another.

“A meeting is an event
where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”
James T. Kirk

Meeting Monsters
Here is a guide to the crazy cast of characters you’re likely to encounter in your meetings. Be equipped to do battle with these unruly forces who sabotage meetings with their destructive behavior.
The Monopolizer:
    This person thinks he or she is the only one with wisdom on subjects. They ramble on and on, arrogantly acting as though their ideas or beliefs are more important than others.

    Result – others shy away from contributing, intimidated by the monopolizer’s stranglehold on the meeting.

    Solution – The facilitator or even other participants should indicate an interest in hearing from others in the meeting. If there is no other solution–turning your chair away from the person could help.

The Tangent Talker:
    This person hijacks the topic of the group by taking discussions off on tangents – topics unrelated to the issue at hand.

    Result – Time wastage.

    Solution – the facilitator’s ability to recognize and refocus is essential here. "Please let’s stay to the topic at hand" is a good way to get back on track. Alternately saying, "Let’s try to avoid tangents" also labels such behavior as contrary to the group’s aims.

The Devil’s Advocate:
    There’s one in almost every meeting. Whatever the discussion this person delights in taking an opposing view. The more unpopular the stance the more exciting their challenge.

    Result – Unnecessarily disruptive, time thief!

    Solution – A good chair can praise this person’s ability to do this while simultaneously indicating its inappropriateness given time parameters or previously agreed issues.

The Cynic:
    This person has a Masters degree in negativity. "It won’t work." "Can’t be done." "They’ll never buy it." "We tried it once and it was a failure."

    Result – Placing a negative tone to meeting. Deflating and defeating whatever notion is in motion.

    Solution – Challenge them to think like The Devil’s Advocate. Use the conflict resolution tool of asking them to embrace the other view as if it were their own, and argue that side’s position.

The Pandora’s Box Opener:
    They tackle issues that are emotional, touchy or are "hot buttons" for others in the meeting. They lead the entire meeting into areas that provoke frustration, animosities and often resentment too. Discussions of salaries, promotions or policies often stir up issues that hijack meetings.

    Result – Meeting is hijacked by tempers flaring over emotional type issues.

    Solution – A firm "let’s not go there" from the meeting’s facilitator. Other phrases like "let’s cross that bridge when we get there" or "that’s a hornets nest we don’t need to disturb" labels certain subjects out of bounds.

The Attacker:
    Mixes negativity with personal attacks. Without regard to hurting others’ feelings, the attacker uses a confrontational style to object to others’ ideas and go against the flow.

    Solution – A good facilitator can refocus them to be positive, to remove the sting from their words and avoid an adversarial approach. All participants are entitled to stop the meeting when personally attacked. Ad hominem attacks are attacks against one’s person. People can criticize your actions or beliefs, but you don’t have to tolerate attacks against who you are as a person.

The Joker:
    Their constant joking diminishes others’ serious ideas or suggestions. Their humor can belittle others’ motions and makes it difficult for some to be taken seriously.

    Result – Constant joking disrupts a meeting and distracts attention from where it should be.

    Solution – A meeting chair can designate several minutes at the start or middle of a meeting specifically for humor. When it crops up elsewhere and is deemed disruptive, the chair can remind people the time for humor is passed or forthcoming, so as to control it.

Meetings are full of characters. You should study the behavior in meetings, including your own, to better understand your style of interaction.
Professional Impressions would like to credit the following for information and images used in this article:
Chairing A Meeting The Most effective WayGina Gardiner
Managing your Meeting Monsters: Identifying the Cast of Culprits That Threaten Productive MeetingsCraig Harrison
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