In The Trenches

Look up!

Published on August 25, 2017 Back to blog
People Sitting at Conference Table Looking at Cell Phones

Lately, while the weather is nice, I’ve been trying to bike into work as often as possible. It is the one thing I can do that truly takes my mind off of everything except the task at hand. Even though the large majority of my ride is on a bike path (I cheat a bit and drive with my bike to the Charles River from my house), I am completely focused on what is in front of me. And for good reason.

As I ride, I am in constant lookout for children who may run onto the path. (This one is understandable. Children will be children.) But, perhaps more concerning are the people on their cell phone who are so involved in their conversations that they don’t even realize they’re in the middle of a bike path. Or, the group of friends who are in their own universe as they walk hand in hand next to one another, as though they are playing Red Rover with anyone who approaches them. I’ve even seen people talking on the phone or checking emails/texts while riding their bikes. They are each in their own worlds, unaware of their surroundings and creating danger for all those who they encounter. If only they’d look up for just a moment. 

This leads me to the meeting room, where this high level of presence is of equal importance, but where so many often seem to be in a different place. As more and more people take notes on their electronic devices or call in from remote locations, it is difficult to discern who is truly present. So, today, I have a few suggestions on how to remain present in the meeting room, and prevent yourself from being “knocked off the path”.

1. Let others know what you are doing – Whenever possible, I take notes on my computer (Evernote). In lunch meetings, I may even take notes on my phone. However, recognizing that people may not see what I am doing, I tell them why I am typing on my device. If they don’t know what you are doing, they will likely assume you are checking emails or texting your friends about evening plans.

2. Turn off the irrelevant distractions – Distractions are not just limited to texts and emails. Sometimes, it is simply spotting another person checking emails, listening to a side conversation in the room, or seeing someone completely tune out (I’ve actually witnessed people fall asleep in meetings). Ignore them and focus on the conversation. Otherwise, you risk getting hit.

3. Let your presence be known – Perhaps the best way to show that you’re listening is to contribute to the discussion (but don’t just talk for the sake of talking). Ask a question. Add context. Share an idea. Or, if your sole role in a meeting is to take notes, let everyone know your role and share your notes soon afterward. In short, participate. Otherwise, don’t bother attending. 

4. Expect the unexpected – Just like a child jumping onto the path, expect to be called upon for your opinion at any time. If you have to ask, “can you please repeat the question?” your cover has been blown – and you will likely need to face the consequences.

5. Look up! – Perhaps the most important thing to do in a meeting is simply look up (something that most people on the bike path forget to do). Whether you are physically in the meeting or calling in via video, let people know that you are there. Get your head out of your device or notebook and just share a smile with the others in the room. Otherwise, they may scream to get your attention or accidentally knock you over.

Thanks for being present for a few minutes to read this post. Be sure to keep the same focus in your next meeting – and feel free to knock over anyone who may not be looking up. It can serve as a nice wake-up call for future encounters.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners