Crucial Accountability QA

Distracted Meetings?

Dear Crucial Skills,

I am getting incredibly frustrated by the various meetings I attend. I feel they are increasingly ineffective. Information that is shared is not understood and later attendees claim they were not aware of matters we discussed. In my opinion, technology is to blame. During the meetings, people are frequently checking their e-mails and texts and responding to them instead of paying attention. Am I just a dinosaur unwilling to get with the times, or are others being rude? What can be done?


Dear Irritated,

You are not a “dinosaur” that has to get with the times; you are one of an increasing number that see the inappropriate use of technology as a real problem. Meetings are less effective when people try to multitask. Many groups are unconsciously changing their norms and culture by not noticing or addressing the increased use of digital diversions during meetings. What was once seen as a rare interruption is now more often the norm.

Unfortunately, you are a victim of Electronic Displays of Insensitivity, or EDIs. We recently conducted an online survey of 2,025 subjects about this very topic. Eighty-nine percent of respondents reported damaged relationships due to friends and family ignoring them as a result of the insensitive use of technology, and 90 percent agree you should not answer text messages or check social media profiles in public; yet 67 percent regularly see EDIs at the dinner table, 52 percent see them frequently during customer service interactions, and 63 percent report regularly seeing this abuse in meetings. Ninety percent of respondents report the situation is worse than a year ago. To make matters worse, two out of three respondents have no idea how to confront an EDI and one in three just ignore it. You can read the study on our blog.

Perhaps there are occasions when someone should have his or her smartphone on and be available during a meeting. A staff meeting where a doctor needs to be reached in case of an emergency is an example; or a key manager that must be available during a team meeting for an important client or customer might also be appropriate. However, in the vast majority of cases we should use the “movie rule”—make your calls, texts, or e-mails before or after the meeting, not during the meeting. If there is an urgent need to be available during the meeting, get the group’s concurrence up front; even then, step out of the meeting to respond.

My advice to you is this: as you begin a meeting, whether it’s your meeting or someone else’s, state the facts. Factually describe what has been happening. You might say, “In our meetings I’ve noticed that many of us check our phones for texts and e-mails during the meeting. Frequently, we are sending messages.”

Next, explore natural consequences. Share some of the consequences and problems you see resulting from people’s use of digital communication. Perhaps you could say something like, “I’ve noticed that while this is happening, those involved seem to check out of the meeting. Information is often missed and I believe ideas are not being shared that could help the team. I’ve come to this conclusion because people are often unaware of information discussed or key points that were made during meetings that they attended. I think, at best, we are undermining our effectiveness; at worst, we are doing damage to our stakeholders.”

Invite others to dialogue. Ask others to share their view. “Do you see this differently? Am I missing something?” Listen carefully to others’ views. In most cases, the reason people feel the need to constantly check messages is so they can stay in touch or not miss something of importance. Help your teammates understand it’s usually a trade-off between accomplishing the team’s purposes and individual convenience. The answer usually comes from being organized and disciplined.

Propose a solution. Ask others if they would be willing to try an experiment. Propose the team use the “movie rule” for two meetings and see if things improve. Create clear expectations so everyone understands what the new guidelines are.

Begin every meeting with a reminder. Review the team’s agreement about not using digital communication and ask if anyone needs an exception to the rule. Discuss any requests and agree together how to proceed.

Review results. At the end of the meeting check to see how the attendees felt the meeting went. Did they notice any difference? Did they see these new guidelines as an improvement? Are they willing to do it again next time? Often, after two “digital-free” meetings, team members see the changes, recognize the improvements, and are willing to continue.

If they have not become full converts, you can agree on compromises that still make things better, like turning the phones off when a critical issue must be discussed that requires everyone’s undivided attention.

The key is not allowing EDIs to become “undiscussable.” Respectfully talk about what is happening and how it can be improved. In this way, you develop an open culture of continually improving your team’s effectiveness and not defaulting to Electronic Displays of Insensitivity.

I wish you the very best,


Influencer QA

Q&A: Coping with Incompetence

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

We have a person on our team who is not up to the job. This person is not respected in our team. No one wants to work with him. He sees himself as an expert, but is not. Additionally, he has a pompous attitude. He takes credit for others’ work and has been caught doing so by management. He has made our company look like fools to our vendors. His name is used as a threat to other areas in our company: “Be nice or you will have to work with Brian.” Recently, our team has been asked to provide two members to a major work effort. Since Brian volunteered, no one else has volunteered.

Several of us have voiced our concerns to our manager and his boss. We have provided specific examples of his incompetence. Our vendors don’t want to work with him and have also complained to management. We are out of options. Where do we go from here?


Dead Weight

A Dear Dead Weight,

What a frustrating situation. It’s one thing when you suffer because of your own “accountability” failings; it adds a dollop of despair when the failing is out of your direct control. Here are my thoughts on both influencing and coping with the situation.

Influencing. I’ll ask a few questions to help you consider whether you’ve exhausted your options for influencing the situation for the better. I’m going to assume for the sake of my response that your view of the situation is 100 percent accurate—there is broad consensus about this person’s incompetence and offensive behavior. Since you suggested this is a widely shared view I won’t press you, as I usually would, to explore whether your judgments are biased or amplified.

1. Have you held the right conversation? People who report having “spoken up” have often, in reality, stopped quite short of the right conversation. For example, they’ll pass the boss in the hallway, make an offhand comment and eye-roll about a colleague’s action, then pat themselves on the back for having been “candid.” Let’s say your fundamental concern is a pattern of taking credit that is undermining trust in the team. And in this hallway conversation you said, “Boss, I heard Brian claimed he created the new inventory spreadsheet. In fact, Natasha did that.” What you’ve just done is held the wrong conversation. You’ve shared a single instance of concern when the real issue is a broad pattern of concerns with wide ranging consequences. You have not held the “right” conversation. So I ask you, have you and others met with appropriate leaders and shared the full range of your facts, the full extent of consequences to vendors, customers, teammates, and the organization of the pattern of behavior you witness? If not, then there is more you can do.

2. Are you open to being influenced? Be sure as you hold conversations with management that your goal is dialogue, not monologue. After you share your full view, be prepared for them to have a different view. Your job is to put all of your “meaning” in the shared pool, then to invite them to do the same. They may have other facts, other conclusions, and other values. For example, your teammate may be making an extraordinary contribution that they see as offsetting the irritations you experience—different values. They may see the same behavior but judge it differently—different conclusions. Or they may see a very different behavior and performance than you do—different facts. You seem to have a pretty airtight case, but if you approach them as though you possess all truth, you’re less likely to get to dialogue. And the goal of dialogue is not just to change them but to change you too!

Coping. If you’ve done all you are willing to do to influence appropriate accountability, you have two options: coping and codependence.

I’ll define the coping option as the healthy one. It requires integrity, acceptance, compassion, and boundaries. Codependence, on the other hand, is the absence of integrity, acceptance, compassion, and boundaries. You know you’re codependent if this colleague triggers feelings of resentment, powerlessness, and blame.

Integrity. First of all, healthy coping means you are being honest with yourself. You have done all you feel is appropriate to influence the situation. You know you aren’t being honest with yourself if you chronically blame others for your emotions and circumstances. Often my own irritation is more a function of my failure to speak up, than others’ failure to change.

Acceptance. Next, get out of denial about the reality you are in. Accept that you have bosses that are imperfect. Accept that you have a colleague who appears insecure. Accept that—at least at present—there is nothing more you can do to influence it for the better. Other opportunities to influence change may present themselves. But at present, you’ve done all you can or should do. So focus on what you can influence to create a positive work environment for yourself. What turns irritation into misery is an unwillingness to accept reality.

Compassion. Irritation becomes loathing when we hold a distorted view of those around us. When others create problems, we try to protect ourselves by putting distance between us and them. The unfortunate effect of this natural reaction is that we cut ourselves off from the broader set of observations that would help us see the other person as a human being rather than as a bundle of weaknesses. You can avoid this by finding ways to suspend your judgments and generate compassion.

Boundaries. Finally, take responsibility for communicating and enforcing your expectations and boundaries with this individual. For example, if this person is unreliable, create boundaries that allow you to control your destiny. You might say, “I will need your input by Monday. If I don’t receive it by 8 a.m., I won’t be including it in my report.” The difference between boundaries and passive-aggression is candor. Passive aggression—which might involve gossip, avoidance, or finger-pointing on your part—is a sign you are not coping in a healthy way, but are caught in a codependent relationship with this person. Healthy coping would mean you candidly explain the boundaries you are setting up to help you do quality work and have good quality of work life—while also remaining open to revising this relationship if you see signals of change.

I sincerely hope something in what I’ve shared is useful to you in getting to a better place.