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Ask Cathy
Multitask in Meetings

Q. Please settle this debate we've been having. I am an A Type personality and can multitask very well.

I hate wasting time. So I frequently check email and IM when we are in meetings. I am still paying attention - but am able to do both.

My co-worker says that it is improper behavior and disrespectful to the others. She can't believe I can give 100% to both but I can. What do you say?

Dear A-Type,

The beauty of being an A-Type is that achievement comes easily on many different levels. The down side is an aversion to focusing too long on any one project or task. I, too, suffer from the need to monitor my TREO.

There now appears to be an emerging etiquette for the use of wireless handhelds in meetings. The best management of their use that I have seen comes from those who address it directly by setting break times during the meeting to read email and answer voice mails.

The inference is that during the meeting, the device should be switched off. If your meeting organizer has not established protocol for handheld devices, then ask ahead of time so that no one is offended or caught off-guard by your use.

I must admit that I am personally uncomfortable when others in a meeting are tending to their email instead of engaging actively with all of their attention. I react by thinking that the meeting is obviously not their first priority, or important enough to the handheld users to retain their full engagement.

I do understand the need to multi-task, given the extensive work demands that we juggle, but I think the appropriate etiquette is to ask for email/voicemail breaks of ten minutes for every hour or so. Then, no one is offended.

I have apologized before meetings for leaving my TREO on vibrate if I am expecting something urgent. I explain why it is urgent and give assurances that once I have received the awaited message, or after the urgent call arrives, the device will be switched off.

This enables you to deal respectfully with work emergencies and to manage the reactions of colleagues effectively.

So, to settle your debate, I think that doing Email or receiving calls during a meeting with others is discourteous and could be seen as disrespectful, unless permission has been otherwise sought and given.

Worse, however, I worry about the growing perception of others that perhaps those amongst us who can not put down their devices do not consider the meeting topic serious enough for their full engagement. This may injure them professionally.

It is best to request breaks or to set expectations up front for emergency messaging that may be needed.

Thanks for asking this question because many others have also sought advice.



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Cathy Horton-Panzica





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