The Fidgety Person’s Guide to Meetings

by Katie Goodell


I have a hard time sitting still. I rarely had this problem as a kid in school – back then I was patient, quiet, and attentive to my teachers. I may have even been accusingly called the Teacher’s Pet a time or two, and I would like to think it was in part because of my earnest listening skills and always-polite posture. No, this desire to constantly be moving in some way or fiddling with something in my hands has developed and become more pronounced as I’ve been in the workforce as an adult. Not sure if I can call it some sort of disorder like OCD or ADD or D&D or whatever, or blame my glorification of multitasking, or just assume our on-demand culture means shrinking attention spans. It’s probably just a lack of self-control and release of nervous energy. But I do find the obsessive, mostly unconscious need to be fidgeting whenever I’m forced to sit still very often prevails.

I am willing to confess: my natural nervous behaviors include playing with my hair, biting my nails, balancing coasters on the table, playing with the buttons on my shirt sleeves, sliding my shoes on and off under the table, playing with my hair some more, and even carefully and discreetly (or maybe not discreetly, ask my coworkers) picking my nose. Maybe some things haven’t changed for me since my kindergarten Teacher’s Pet days after all! (That’s right: I’ll admit to picking my nose in Pivot meetings right here on the Pivot blog. Let’s see how many of my coworkers call me out now!)

I’ve found these compulsive tendencies can be a bit troublesome in professional business meeting settings – and perhaps I’m not the only one who feels they occasionally bring the bad manners of a kindergartener at carpet time into their grown-up workplace. Here are my tips to look a little less like a crazy person or a noncompliant child and a little more like an attentive teacher’s pet when you’re invited to sit through long meetings:

  1. Hold a small, silent object in your hand. A paper clip or a rubber band. Even a folded corner of a page can sometimes do the trick. But whatever you do… don’t click your pen. This may seem innocuous enough, but it’s a surefire way to attract unwanted attention to your fidgeting fingers and annoy the heck out of others trying equally hard to pay attention to the contents of your discussion. Silent object is key.
  2. Take notes. Even if you’re not assigned to take notes. Not only will this keep your hands busy (writing or typing or Swyping), but you’ll have the great side effect of actually paying better attention to your colleagues and retaining more information. Also, everyone loves the coworker who took great notes and can efficiently recall brilliant statements made by other meeting attendees!
  3. A professor in college taught me doodling in meetings was unprofessional. Now that I work with many designers and such creative coworkers, I see doodling as an occasionally appropriate meeting behavior – as long as you’re also writing words and actual notes as well, and (most importantly) not neglecting eye contact with your fellow attendees. That might be seen as more rude than playing with your hair.
  4. Cut your hair. All the way. Buzz cut. (Drastic, but potentially effective. I haven’t tried this one yet.)
  5. Cut your fingers off. (Also drastic and untried, but vaguely recommended by first century Jewish teachers.)
  6. Bring a glass of water, water bottle, or cup of coffee. Hold it with both hands. Or focus on how long you can hold it without moving your fingers. Challenge yourself to take the tiniest sips possible!

Do as I say, not as I do, because even with these tactics in mind, you might still catch me picking my nose from time to time. At least I’m honest and admit it – that’s got to count for something on the track of self-awareness, self-control, less fidgeting, and eventual return to attentive Teacher’s Pet status, right?!

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  1. Roland says:

    Katie, It is interesting that you view your Fidgety-ness as a possible “disorder” or “lack of control”. What if you are just…thinking? What if you are just being…normal? People who are thinking, engaged, and forming creative ideas…fidget. I’ve often thought that an unusual interview technique might be to have a meeting discussion with interviewees on some random topic, and watch for those who are fidgety. THOSE would be the candidates who are connecting and forming ideas!

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