Shut Up Already: Meeting Etiquette and Learning to Listen


/ 2014-07-31

When you first read this title you probably think these are instructions for someone else—but not you—right? But read on—see where you’re at when it comes to the issues of talking, listening, moderating and overall meeting etiquette. So what does this topic have to do with Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, Big Data or anything in the IT field? Are you thinking about hiring a new IT employee or contractor, in any field of expertise, to become part of an important project team? The last thing that you want is for that person to not truly listen to the actual problem before they attempt to “fix something.” How many times have you had a service person come out to look at a faulty “something” at your home only to be bombarded with a list of services totaling many hundreds of dollars over and beyond the $50 part that failed? And the reason you even called them there in the first place hasn’t even been addressed yet. I find myself thinking, “Did I ask for that? Did you even listen to my problem or request?”

Take Notes

Recently my wife and I remodeled our on-suite bathroom. Because we frequently watch HGTV, and do a fair share of DIY projects around the house, we knew exactly what we wanted to do to the bathroom. We just didn’t know which contractor we wanted to do the work. So we began the daunting task of interviewing possible candidates. One of the first things I looked for was their ability to listen to what I was asking them to do. If they were not taking notes, I knew that they probably were not listening either. Unfortunately this happened more times than not. With the amount of customers that many contractors work with in a day, week, or month, and the different requests they get, it is impossible to make sure that attention to detail is achieved without taking the necessary notes throughout the project. Some people are blessed with the ability to remember things very well but we are all plagued with the ability to unknowingly forget detail at some point.

Interrupting the Person Who has the Floor

So this is my absolute highest ranking pet peeve when it comes to learning how to listen. This flaw includes several different scenarios.

Multiple meetings within a meeting. You’re on a conference call or in a physical meeting room. As the meeting comes to that point where you are deliberating over a set of different relevant points, small meetings within the meeting begin to break out. Remember, “We can hear you… All of you!” For the few that are not involved in the multi-meeting that is going on, it is basically a production buster. For those involved in these side meetings, you are completely missing what could potentially affect you in the “real meeting.” Shame on the meeting facilitator for allowing this and shame on the involved parties.

Talking over each other. This is rude and is what inspired me to write this article in the first place. You probably relate to this. Someone is explaining a scenario that is relevant and is looking for resolution. Based on the previous sentence you realize that someone will be required to either answer or at least direct this person to someone that can answer their concern. Unfortunately what often happens is that the person begins their conversation and at the slightest hesitation or short pause for thought, or even while in mid-sentence, the “impatient one” jumps in to save the day with an unwarranted and premature answer while not waiting for the completion of the question. Clearly, it takes some people more time to get to the point but that does not mean their point is any less important. This interruption generally results in misinformation AND a jab to the sense of worth of the person asking the question since the question wasn’t even fully presented for an answer or was completely shut down. In some cases an incorrect action is taken because the impatient answerer didn’t listen to the entire question. If he would have done that, the resulting answer could have been completely different—or even better-deferred to the true owner. The bottom line: when two people are talking over each other, then nobody is listening. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of that little thing we call conversation? Sometimes it can be hard to hold your tongue and not interrupt. The solution: write things down and let the person finish and then proceed. If you write down your thoughts, concerns and questions, you’ll remember them at the end of the meeting when the facilitator asks, “Are there any more questions?”

Don’t be afraid to ask.

There’s no such thing as a question that should not be asked. The fact that you were invited to the meeting is reason enough for you to have questions. If your opinion was not worthy of consideration, then you would not have been asked to attend. Now this does go hand in hand with listening and taking appropriate notes so that you are not asking a question or starting a discussion that has already been addressed.

Unrelated Tangents and Hijacking

Have you ever been in a meeting while someone is speaking and it is like an infinite loop? Some things must come to an end. Do you find yourself thinking, “Meeting facilitator, please save us all!” Unfortunately some people use the word meeting as an outlet for whatever seems important to them all within the allotted hour.

Call your own meeting.

When you get a meeting request and it is affiliated but not about a topic near and dear to you, don’t take it upon yourself to make it your own. Not a good way to score points on any level and definitely not productive for you or the people attending the initial meeting. This affects the meeting facilitator directly because their purpose for the meeting is ignored in lieu of someone else agenda. Most people will be more than happy to discuss your concerns if there is time on the clock at the conclusion of the called meeting. However, the mood will take an opposite turn if the original purpose was derailed due to an infamous meeting hijacker. Pretty soon the hijacker won’t be part of any meeting.

Going off on a tangent.

This is not to be confused with a meeting highjack. If this person were to facilitate their tangent in a meeting, you would need to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to get through it. Let’s face it, some people just like to hear the words coming out of their own mouth more than anything else. Hours of production time are wasted each and every day due to these tangent creators. They will tell you how the system worked when they got to the company 20 years ago, how we used to do things back in the day, and so on. You can usually spot them and if you are a savvy meeting participant you can sometimes diffuse them before it is too late. This challenge is once again on the meeting facilitator. Let them know things are getting off track right away. Own your meeting and save those you have invited.

The Chronic Repeater

This is the person who makes my brain scream, “Make it STOP!” You know the type—the employee who has complete knowledge of every synonym known to man and is not afraid to use them over and over and over—alternating new phrases with the exact same message they just said. Usually I get an Instant Message from another meeting attendee exclaiming, “How many different ways is he/she going to say this?” We get it, people. We know you know your stuff. Good for you. But we got the point 15 minutes ago. Can we please move on?

Personal Commentary

I am all about breaking the ice during the onset of a meeting. However, spending the first 15 minutes of an hour block illuminating the whole group on your recent family vacation, complete with when little Bobby tossed his breakfast, is not what people are wanting to hear during a key meeting.


This probably should have been closer to the top of the list. In the world of Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence, one of the first things you learn is to know your data. When participating in a meeting you should know your audience. Just like you can get data in your dataset that you didn’t expect, the same can happen when the CIO who has never joined one of your team teleconference, decides to show up un- announced. Heaven help you if you are not conducting yourself in a professional manner as per company policy.

Mute Button

This can be a dangerous button. People typically use this as their license to say something equivalent to speaking under their breath whether it be about a person, a process, a problem, and so on. It is amazing that we put so much trust in a little button that can fail at any time. The situation can easily arise where you have a long meeting where someone has been toggling that button so much that you are unsure when it is on or off. I have heard absolute horror stories on this topic. Mistakes here can range from embarrassing to career-fatal.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Share This Story

Drive your business forward!

iOLAP experts are here to assist you