No matter how far you may climb up the corporate ladder, meetings will continue to be a part of your professional life, and a keen sense of meeting etiquette will continue to be a crucial element of your interpersonal skill set. While some of the same rules that guide your behavior in meetings at all points of your career will continue to apply in the corporate boardroom, etiquette in the high-impact meetings that occur at an organization's highest levels is nuanced in some important ways.
Below, read about some key elements of meeting etiquette to keep in mind as you take your place in the corporate boardroom. By following these rules, you can help foster a positive, professional and productive atmosphere during even the most stressful meeting.
The first rule of meeting etiquette is perhaps the most obvious. A mutually respectful meeting environment depends on the committed participation of everyone present in the room, and this means that all people present should remain alert and engaged with whoever is speaking at any given moment.
In order to maintain a professional level of active attention, avoid engaging in distracted or distracting behaviors like checking your phone, doing work unrelated to the meeting at hand or starting side conversations with those seated near you.1 Respect breeds respect, and by steering clear of these bad behaviors, you can build a reputation as someone who should be taken seriously in the corporate boardroom when it is your turn to speak.
Ask Questions at Appropriate Times
It is common in meetings structured around a presentation for the meeting organizer to end their talk by turning to the room and asking "Are there any questions?" Because we are all comfortable with this format, it's easy to assume that the most appropriate—or even the only—time to ask questions is at the end of a meeting. However, by restricting yourself to this approach, you run the risk of irritating your colleagues and missing out on opportunities to spur a dynamic, productive conversation.
Rather than save all your questions for the end of a meeting, ask them as they arise naturally throughout. This enables the person who must respond to your question to do so while the information at issue is fresh in everyone's mind, and it allows time for the conversation to branch off into potentially important, unforeseen directions as well. And asking your questions at appropriate intervals respects your coworkers' time as well, as it can help prevent meetings from running over time and allow everyone to get back to their work promptly.2
Disagree Politely but Firmly
Corporate boardrooms thrive on healthy debate. Agreeing even when you have misgivings can be counterproductive, even if you think doing so is important in the interest of maintaining a positive mood. Reasoned, cordial disagreement is often at the heart of the best business decisions, whether it results in a bold new strategic approach, helps avoid making a tactical mistake or simply works toward solving the thorny "wicked problems" that businesses face every day.
Appropriate boardroom meeting etiquette dictates that you voice disagreements politely, but firmly.3 Your colleagues deserve the respect of your honest opinion, and the success of your company demands the positive outcomes that result when every decision maker brings their experience and expertise to bear on important decisions.
Avoid Forming Cliques
For a group that meets on a regular basis like a corporate board, it can be easy to fall into predictable patterns of behavior. It can be natural for board members who tend to see eye to eye on most issues to gravitate toward one another, which can result in the formation of cliques within the larger group that can impede productive conversation.
The good news, is that there is a surprisingly easy solution to this potential problem. By simply shaking up the seating arrangements every time the board convenes, you can prompt each group member to engage directly with everyone else at the table.4 By taking steps to avoid complacency, you can help prevent the onset of a routine that can have a negative effect on group dynamics.
Stick to a Schedule
All meetings thrive on efficiency, from tactical project-planning meetings between junior employees to the most volatile, make-or-break strategy-setting meetings in the corporate boardroom. The most effective ones are planned out thoughtfully in advance, with an agenda set to maximize the use of everyone's time, designed to cover only the necessary details, but to do so thoroughly.
If you are running a meeting, etiquette requires that you book enough time to get through everything you want to comfortably, that you circulate an agenda ahead of time and stick to it meticulously throughout the meeting, and that you promptly adjourn and leave the room when your allotted time has run out.5 And if you are not a meeting's organizer, you should still be cognizant of everybody's time and do what you can in terms of paying attention and participating purposefully to keep the meeting on track.
Don't Fear Spontaneity
While it may seem to contradict the above advice about meticulous adherence to a schedule, it is equally, if not more, important to be open to the spontaneous emergence of a great idea or a productive opportunity. This can mean allowing conversation during a meeting to move in an unexpected direction—but respectfully, of course, and only with the buy-in of everyone else in the room.
It can also mean grabbing colleagues for impromptu, informal meetings and work sessions the moment inspiration strikes.5 While this behavior may be described by some as a breach of professional etiquette, if done correctly, it can be a key driver for important ideas and can help establish you as a dynamic, hands-on leader.
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1 Retrieved on June 14, 2019, from forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2018/03/01/ten-things-never-ever-to-do-in-a-business-meeting
2 Retrieved on June 14, 2019, from businessinsider.com/10-etiquette-rules-for-meetings-that-every-professional-needs-to-know-2013-1
3 Retrieved on June 14, 2019, from odgersberndtson.com/en-us/insights/the-tricky-business-of-boardroom-etiquette
4 Retrieved on June 14, 2019, from business.nasdaq.com/marketinsite/2018/BL/Boardroom-Etiquette-5-Social-Missteps-to-Avoid.html
5 Retrieved on June 14, 2019, from ceotodaymagazine.com/2018/02/the-new-rules-of-meeting-room-etiquette/