It’s Just A Meeting

It’s Just A Meeting

If I asked you to define civility, what would you say? Most answers have a combination of demonstrating good manners, being nice, being polite, or waiting to speak.

If I asked you to define incivility, what would you say? The opposite of the above: no manners, rudeness, and interrupting. This is part of the definition.

Drs. Christine Porath & Christine Pearson, internationally recognized civility experts, define it as, “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct.”


What do meetings have to do with civility?


Lots, meetings are excellent barometers of the level of civility in an organization.

In many workplaces meetings start late as individuals either saunter or rush in – the speed of arrival often indicative of the perceived importance of the meeting or a packed schedule. Once in the meeting, it is accepted that attendees may need to leave early because of a deadline, a different meeting, or whatever they deem as more important than the meeting. In addition to arriving late and departing early, many attendees are checking email or the like while the meeting chair is working through the agenda.

I know, it’s a busy world, with many competing deadlines issued by our supervisors, project leaders, and clients. The actions above might seem unimportant however they are all examples of incivility – inconsequential inconsiderate deeds.


A common tenet of leadership philosophy is to “model the behaviour” you want to see from your staff.


We say this when we talk about reaching our goals and servicing clients and striving for professional growth. What we don’t recognize as readily, especially as leaders, is all behaviour is modelled, including the undesired behaviour.

In one organization the executive team was successful in modelling the behaviour meetings became ineffective. In this organization the words were: show up to meetings on time, finish meetings on time, pay attention (we don’t want to waste more time). Got it. However, at least half of the executive team arrived late to meetings and spent a good portion of their time checking their device rather than listening and participating in the meeting. Because the meeting now started late, it ended late. Because the leaders were not participating in the meeting, they would ask someone in the room to summarize the key points and send them the notes so they could review it then. What’s wrong with that? Nothing if it is secondary support. As a primary way to engage in a meeting – it’s uncivil. Basically what you’re communicating is you’ve got better things to do, and the meeting is a waste of your time.

While some leaders slough this behaviour off as the way business is done now at the executive level – we’re busy! I think it is essential to consider the outcomes of this easily changed behaviour.

Consider how you react when you lead a meeting that people are late for and don’t participate in the meeting. You worked hard to pull together the agenda, books calendars, gather the required information, and keep it as concise as possible. If you are the leader, you get a bit more leeway since your reports are likely to pay attention given the reporting structure but your peer level isn’t motivated the same way.

Regardless of your position in the organization, the unconscious messaging you receive is ‘this isn’t important,’ and therefore you are more likely to wonder why you were tasked with doing the work in the first place. If it isn’t important to the leaders, why would it be important to you? If it happens once or twice, people understand unexpected things pop up, but when it is a routine behaviour, the outcomes aren’t pretty for the bottom line.

The uncivil behaviour, as innocuous as it may seem, does lead to the loss of employee engagement, lost productivity, and a loss of respect. There is a 78% decline in organizational commitment when staff repeatedly experience incivility.

It’s just a meeting.


The Cost of Bad Behaviour, C. Pearson & C. Porath, (2009)

Civility Matters, C. Dowden (2015)

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