Office Coach: Appropriate behavior for workplace evolving

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Q: Since taking a new job, I have been appalled by my colleagues' disrespectful behavior in meetings. Most of them bring laptops and type continuously while others are talking. I initially believed they were taking notes, but soon discovered that they are actually working on other things.

Cell phones are also a problem, with people constantly texting and taking calls. In one meeting, the leader responded to instant messages while her computer screen was on display for everyone to see. All this extraneous activity is extremely distracting.

When I attend meetings, I leave my laptop on my desk, silence my phone and return calls afterward. However, since I am middle-age, perhaps my ways are just old-fashioned. What do you think?

A: While common courtesy never goes out of style, the definition of appropriate behavior does evolve over time. Children are still expected to use proper table manners, for example, but are no longer required to remain silent during meals. Because workplace norms also shift, your question does not have a simple answer.

To demonstrate respect, meeting participants should be expected to give their full attention to the person who is speaking. Working on unrelated tasks is unquestionably rude.

That said, however, there is a distinct and growing generational divide regarding technology.

Older colleagues should try to understand that split attention does not necessarily indicate intentional disrespect by their juniors. At the same time, millennials have to realize that texting or emailing during meetings with senior managers could be a career-killer.

To prevent misperceptions, leaders need to establish clear ground rules for the use of electronics in meetings. They should also be sure to invite only people who really need to attend. Otherwise, some participants may multitask simply to make better use of their time.

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Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at


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