Put the Phone Down and Listen

Written by lewsauder

March 5, 2012

Put the Phone Down

Time to Put the Phone Down

I’ve had to sit through my share of meetings to which I never should have been invited; and many meetings where I was only necessary for a minute or two, to provide an update.

It’s one of the most infuriating things I endure as a consultant.  Sitting in a 1-hour – or longer – meeting is not only a waste of my time, but a waste of the client’s money to pay for me to sit there.

Many times I’ve been tempted to make the time a little more productive and open up the laptop or pull out my smart phone and check emails or do something to make the time more productive.

Put the phone down

I wouldn’t be the only one. For some people, meetings are just another venue to catch up on their emails.  In their defense, it’s possible that some of them are taking meeting notes, but I‘m betting against it.  I’ve actually seen people texting to each other across the meeting.  They’re not as subtle as they think they are (especially when they both giggle at the response).

To some I may be a bit old-school about some business etiquette, but this is something I’m pretty adamant about.  When you’re in a meeting, put down your phone, leave the laptop closed and listen.

This is important for two reasons:

First of all, you may learn something.  The meeting may not have anything to do with your work.  And you might have been invited by mistake.  But it’s possible you’ll hear something that may still be to your advantage.  It may open your eyes to another aspect of the business that remotely affects your project.

As a consultant, you may learn of a pain-point at the client that could lead to an entirely new project where you could further serve the client’s needs.

Secondly, working on other work in a meeting is just too damn rude.  If someone invited you to a meeting, they may have had a reason to want you there.

Working on other things sends the meeting organizer – and everyone else in attendance – that you consider yourself to be too important to pay attention to what they have to say.  Maybe you have the keen ability to listen to the conversation and work on other things at the same time (though studies show that it is unlikely).  Even if that’s the case, you’re giving off a perception that your work is more important than anything anyone else is saying.  In my opinion, that’s poor etiquette for any business scenario.  In consulting, it’s just bad business.

As an alternative, decide ahead of time whether you need to be in a meeting.  When invited to a meeting, find out the agenda in advance.  Determine what will be discussed, your expected role and why you’ve been invited to the meeting.

If you only have a small part and no other role, see if you can arrange with the organizer to speak early in the meeting and be excused once you’re done.  That can appear rude too, but the meeting organizer can announce to the group, “I just invited Bob to give us this update and told him he didn’t need to stay for the remainder of the meeting”.

If you feel that your presence is not necessary at all, speak to the meeting organizer in advance of the meeting to see if he or she would mind if you skipped the meeting and were provided the meeting minutes afterwards.

Some meetings you can get out of.  Some you have to attend.  For those you can’t get out of, put the phone down, and listen to what’s being said.

See my related post: Wake Up, Be Alert

I recently read an article called “The PhoneStacking Game“, which described a game people play when they go out to dinner.  They all stack their phones in the middle of the table face down.  The first one to answer their phone has to pay for dinner.  Maybe we need to start using it for meetings.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and discussion items.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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  1. The Impossible Goal of Multitasking | Consulting 101 - […] See my related post: Put the Phone Down and Listen […]

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