As you're talking, you notice someone on the other side of the table is drawing Homer Simpson on a legal notepad. The employee sitting next to him is eating a muffin, while another employee at the conference table stands up, walks out of the room and comes back. They occasionally chatter about something entirely unrelated to the meeting.
Watching this sea of humanity not only interrupts your train of thought, it makes you wonder if anyone around you is paying attention.
Unfortunately, rude behavior is fairly commonplace in meetings. PGi Worldwide recently surveyed leaders of 500 small and medium sized business to find out which meeting behaviors annoy them the most, and here's what they said:
Doodling - 21%
Eating - 31%
Fidgeting or spinning in one's seat - 32%
Leaving the room and coming back - 41%
Reading unrelated materials - 48%
Checking sports scores - 51%
"Zoning out" - 54%
Checking personal email - 64%
Having side conversations - 69%
"Any NET" - 98%
None of these - 2%
Other - 4%
The funny thing is, these survey takers admitted to their own etiquette breaches: More than 50% said they are guilty of these same behaviors. In fact, 21% of small business owners surveyed said they've gotten "busted" for poor behavior in meetings.
How much business is lost due to poor manners in meetings? No one has calculated it yet. Maybe companies ought to set some ground rules for meeting etiquette, though. You know, please go to the bathroom before the meeting starts. Don't get up and leave the room while someone is giving a presentation. Don't doodle, check your email, or bring food to the meeting. Don't rock or fidget in your chair. Don't look like you've entered a catatonic state. Please have some self-awareness of how you're coming across to others.
With a whole new generation of workers entering the workforce, albeit slowly in this recession, it's an issue employers will have to address.
Correction: It turns out there was an error in the press release. The survey results actually pertain to regular meetings instead of virtual meetings, so I made some changes to the post.