You're leading a virtual meeting, and you have a nagging feeling that some people aren't paying attention. Let's get real: you're absolutely certain that some people aren't paying attention. You even have some good guesses about who is and who isn't. Here's the really scary part — some of the people who you believe are paying attention actually aren't.
Virtual meetings are complicated. A telephone meeting is different from a videoconference, even though both are virtual. For concreteness, let's say that many of the attendees are connected to the meeting by telephone.
As a meeting lead, knowing who isn't fully attentive is valuable information, because it's important to know when corrective action is required. Relying on a sixth sense isn't good enough. Here are some indicators of inattentiveness.
- Uncharacteristic reticence
- Absence of comments from people who typically do comment on the topic at hand can indicate inattentiveness. To check this, ask directly, "Scott, what do you think about this?"
- Delayed responses
- When an attendee is addressed directly, by the meeting lead or by another attendee, a delay before response can indicate inattentiveness. Some people can mentally replay the last few seconds of conversation, and the delay is just the time this takes. Track these delays to detect the pattern.
- Introductory word salad
- When an attendee is addressed directly, a response consisting of "word salad" for the first few seconds can suggest disorientation. People who use this technique can be tripped up by a simple "Excuse me, what does that mean?" during the salad course.
- Key clicking
- Because typing can be meeting-related, the meaning of key clicking is ambiguous. If the typist is not known to take notes, inattentiveness is a possible explanation.
- Food wrapper crinkling
- Unwrapping food Ambient sounds can suggest
attentiveness challenges —
babies crying, dinnerware
clatter, and transportation
sounds are all signs
of troublecan be a noisy operation that can indicate inattentiveness. Eating and attentiveness to the proceedings are not compatible.
- Key phrases
- Key phrases that could indicate inattentiveness:
- "Would you please repeat that?"
- "Sorry, I had it muted."
- "I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Say more."
- "Pardon me, I just stepped away. What did I miss?"
- Ambient sounds
- Ambient sounds can suggest attentiveness challenges. Examples: babies crying, dinnerware clatter, other conversations, and transportation sounds (airport, rail, auto, bus). Ambient sounds can indicate that attendees couldn't control their whereabouts at the time of the meeting, or that they planned attendance during a commute or other activity. Investigation is essential.
- Biological sounds
- The sound of a finishing swallow, mastication, and other activities we cannot mention here indicate problematic behavior. Address the issue privately.
For many connection types, you can't determine the identity of the source. But some connections offer selective muting of individual attendees. If you have that capability, you can flash-mute an individual to determine the sound source. But ask someone else to do it. You don't want to be inattentive yourself. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: IV
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting
chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little
catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- Virtual Meetings: Dealing with Inattention
- There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II
- When we interrupt a meeting to recap the action so far for a late-arriving attendee, the cost of the
recap itself is just the beginning. There are some less-obvious costs that can be even greater.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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