The Absolute Rudest Thing You Can Do in a Business Meeting

The behaviour looked so innocuous to me that I barely noticed it at the time, but it nearly caused an ad agency to lose a major client. Here are a few innocent-looking etiquette blunders than can make you look like a jerk – when you might not even know it.

My marketing team were sitting around the conference table with slides up on the projector, chatting about the fall campaign with the people from the PR firm and waiting for the creative agency reps, who were ten minutes late.

Finally, the three members of the ad agency team came in. “Sorry, traffic was brutal.” Their senior representative apologized, putting down her coffee from the café in the lobby and pulling back a chair. She introduced a new member of her team to our VP of marketing and the head of the PR group and sat down.

This might look like a normal scene, but the rudest thing you can do in a professional meeting had just taken place.

Being late is impolite, of course. It sends the message that your time is more important than that of whoever you were meeting with, and therefore it’s okay to make them sit and wait for you. Not cool. However, it happens. Unforeseen events can delay your trip, and it’s nearly impossible to always be on time for everything.

Chronic lateness, on the other hand, implies that you just don’t care.

In the case of our creative reps, however, it wasn’t the lateness that was the rudest behaviour. It was the coffee. My VP was so incensed after the meeting that he actually considered changing agencies over it.

“There is nothing,” he said, “Nothing ruder that showing up late for a meeting with coffee.”

Yes, he said the word ‘nothing’ twice, that’s not my emphasis. While I hadn’t noticed the coffee on the table as an issue, when he pointed it out, of course I could see it. They were coming to our office to meet with us – who were the client – as well as our PR agency. Traffic was ‘brutal,’ so they were running late. Nevertheless, they stopped to pick up coffee.

They could have been on time – or two minutes late instead of ten – if they hadn’t decided to make the reps from two other companies wait longer for them to arrive because they wanted to have a coffee in the meeting. So, although you say, “Sorry, we’re late,” you’re really not all that sorry.

Secondly, she only introduced her new colleague to the highest-ranking members of the other teams. That is disrespectful to everyone else in the room. If everyone doesn’t know each other in the meeting room, you need to make the round of introductions.

The creative lead left her empty cup on the conference table when she left, which can also be considered as rude. We’re all grownups at work. Don’t expect other people to clean up after you. Through out your own cups, wrappers, and discarded papers.

According to a recent report by OfficeTeam, more than half of people surveyed (54 per cent) said that checking email while people were speaking was the rudest behaviour they saw in meetings.

In my experience most people do this, so I think it will become more acceptable as time goes on. It may even be generational. Younger workers have grown up with smart phones and constant connectivity, so it seems less impolite to be checking their texts and emails mid-conversation.

What do you think? What is the rudest behavior that bothers you the most in meetings?

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