Is it Rude to Have a Sidebar Conversation?

Sidebars during meetings always tend to do more bad than good. Yet, that doesn't stop us from having them - and drawing unwanted attention our way. Modern Manners Guy has 3 tips to do sidebars right.

Richie Frieman,
August 12, 2013
Episode #259

Page 2 of 2

Maybe, but when you witness a sidebar going on at unruly decibel levels, it’s similar to hopping on top of the conference table and doing your best Justin Timberlake impression. That’s exactly what it feels like to the person in front of you who has to pretend they don’t notice the rude distraction...all because you lack the craft of subtlety.

Subtlety is highly underrated, if you ask me. In fact, being subtle is the main tool in a mannerly person's arsenal - one that can be used any time, in any situation, to make something awkward easier to handle. If you feel you must have that sidebar conversation, do it delicately. When you sidebar, talk succinctly, quietly, and with as little physical gesturing as possible. This is not the time to open your arms wide to show your colleague how big of a fish you caught this past weekend. This is also not the time to go into lengthy details. You don’t need to turn your whole body around to whisper to the person next to you. This isn't high school. If you can pretend to be a ventriloquist, that’s even better! You want to make the person speaking in front of you not realize you are having another conversation.

Tip #2: No Time for Jokes

I once had a coworker friend who was notorious for making me laugh during meetings. We had all these inside jokes and whenever a meeting got too long and too boring, she’d look my way, raise her eyebrows, make a goofy face, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. After about two incidents of inappropriate laughter, I realized that I couldn’t even look in her direction during a meeting without risking an outburst. And this was a problem. Laughing while someone is talking, especially in a professional setting, is the highest form of disrespect. Okay, maybe dancing on the table like JT is worse, but you get my point.

I totally get how hard it is to resist telling a joke at an opportune time. In fact, it kills me when I have something funny to share but can't.  A joke sidebar is the worst. Why? For one, you don’t have to crack a joke. You don’t. You want to, but it isn't something that has to be said. You just want to. That’s not a good reason to be impolite. As well, others will want to know what’s so funny because, well, why not, right? Now no one is paying attention to the speaker. And if the speaker is someone who gets nervous talking in front of a group (as many of us do), they might misconstrue the laughing as mockery of something they said or did. They may feel bad. Then you look like a jerk.

Bottom line, if you want to tell a funny joke to the person next to you, just wait until there is a break in the presentation or after the meeting. Either way, don’t take away from the speaker’s spotlight.

Tip #3: Pass a Note

Who would have thought passing notes in class all those years ago in high school could pay off in the professional world? But this skill can in fact be your lifesaver if you have a sidebar conversation that must take place right away. Let me be clear: This is not the time to make a pretty little origami note and pass it down a chain of people around the conference room. When I say pass a note, I mean do it electronically. “Wait, MMG, you've said before that it’s rude to text in meetings?” Yes I did, and yes it is, however, texting during a meeting should only be done if it’s critical. And if you have to have a back and forth sidebar with someone the easiest way is to send a text.

When you send a sidebar text during a meeting, take notes from Tip #1 and #2. This is not the time to goof off or just shoot the breeze. This is the time to impart important information as quickly and subtly as possible. For example, during a meeting last month, the presenter was talking about a conference they were organizing in the fall. It sounded interesting and there were only a few spots available for our organization, so I texted a colleague to check their schedule right away to see if we can get involved. It was fresh on my mind and if my coworker was available, we could discuss it with the presenter immediately after the meeting and get to planning right away. When you do this though, keep the phone in your lap and make it quick. Again, this is not meant for a long conversation – only for critical and time sensitive exchanges. In this case, I was able to have a quick sidebar conversation without distracting anyone else in the room.

Do you have a great story about a sidebar conversation gone wrong?  Post all the details in the comment section below. As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

And if you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available for pre-order now!


Related Tips

You May Also Like...