Chairing a Meeting - Meeting Rules

Most organizations do not have a set of written rules and most meetings are run according to the prevailing ethos of the organization or individual department.

This often causes problems as the expectations of participants can vary widely especially when not everyone attending shares the same cultural values. For example, an attendee from the sales department may be used to meetings that are fairly argumentative, whereas someone from engineering may be used to a more reserved atmosphere.

Importance of meeting rules

Those from a more reserved culture can feel intimidated by those from a more assertive one. The former feel that the latter are behaving in an antagonistic way, even where this is completely unintentional. This is something that is becoming more common as organizations become less insular.

If this is typical of your organization you may wish to emulate the rules and behavior of a Chair you have experienced elsewhere. Many Chairs at conferences outline as part of their opening speech how they expect the audience to behave.

Guidelines for meeting rules

This is something you can emulate in your own meetings and communicate in any guidelines you give at the beginning of the meeting. You can also encourage these behaviors in your own team meetings and exhibit them yourself in any meeting you attend.

By taking a proactive approach to what constitutes acceptable behavior at your meetings, you can prevent bad feeling developing between participants and make your role of Chair more effective.

Example meeting rules include:

  • Speak only through the Chair. Indicate that you want to speak and wait for the Chair to say it's your turn
  • Never interrupt other people
  • Give the speaker your full attention. No mobile devices visible or used during the meeting
  • Stick to the item on the meeting agenda
  • Respect other people's views - don't use negative body language, for example shaking your head or rolling your eyes, etc.
  • Always put your point of view calmly and politely
  • Do not present opinions as facts
  • Keep contributions short and to the point
  • Don't use aggressive body language, for example pointing at other participants
  • You will need to remind people of the meeting rules at each meeting. There may be new people there, and even regular attendees will forget. The most effective way is to ensure that as Chair you assert your control over such disruptive behavior in a diplomatic and encouraging manner.

One of the most important functions of meeting rules is to prevent attendees from feeling marginalized by the behavior of others. The types of behavior that can lead to this feeling of marginalization include: sub-groups of attendees talking among themselves, addressing their contributions to each other rather than to the meeting as a whole, and attendees checking mobile devices rather than giving the speaker their full attention. Some people are very sensitive to these things and will withdraw from the meeting if they feel their contribution is not being properly valued.

As Chair it is your responsibility to encourage all attendees to actively participate and you need to watch out for participants who are exhibiting passive aggressive behavior through their non-contribution. You can easily identify this type of behavior, as these attendees will usually be sitting back in their seat, away from the table, arms crossed and possibly their head down, totally disengaging from what is going on around them.

The importance of dealing constructively with attendees who are exhibiting passive aggressive behavior cannot be overstated. Even though it may be tempting to ignore someone who is obviously in silent disagreement with the rest of the group, it is never worth it.

Any progress that is made by avoiding a dispute during the meeting will be lost many times over when the resulting action has to be implemented in the real world. If the person who is in disagreement feels as though they have had a fair hearing then they will be more inclined to work towards implementing a course of action, even though they may still disagree with it. If, however, they feel as though their opinion was never considered then they might do everything they can to obstruct it.

It is also worth pointing out that once someone feels marginalized in a meeting then it is rare for this feeling to go away by itself. In fact, they often mentally withdraw from the whole process and convince themselves that they don't share any responsibility for the decisions that are reached. Obviously, this lack of buy-in to future actions can be catastrophic if the person in question has a key role in the implementation of those actions.

You may also be interested in:
Chairing a Meeting | The Skills Required to Chair a Meeting | Chairperson's Responsibilities Before the Meeting Begins | How to Begin the Meeting | Chairperson's Responsibilities During the Meeting | Chairperson's Responsibilities After the Meeting.

Key Points

  • An agreed set of meeting rules can prevent bad feeling from developing between attendees who have different norms of behavior.
  • Rules bring structure to the meeting and focus attendees to achieving the meeting objective.
  • Rules ensure that all participants' time is productive.
  • Rules reduce the risk of participants feeling marginalized and opting out of the meeting process.
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