When leading a meeting you will learn that meetings are an effective tool to get work done, here are some methods you can use to handle difficult people who try to seize control of the discussion.
Do you recognize some of these meeting malcontents from your group's meetings?
How to recognize them: They interrupt often, ramble and repeat because they enjoy hearing themselves speak.
Tips for dealing with Monopolizers: Don't argue with them, but don't hesitate to confront them. Wait for them to come up for air and interrupt them by name. Note that point and immediately invite someone else to comment on the topic.
How to recognize them: They seek attention. To get it, they'll often bring up irrelevant topics that waste time.
Tips for dealing with Distracters: Firmly halt Distracters, restate the meeting purpose and ask them to answer a specific question to get them to focus on the main topic.
How to recognize them: They resort to stage-whispered, snide comments to challenge your authority by switching attention from you to them.
Tips for dealing with Snipers: Shine the spotlight on them and bluntly ask them to share their comments with everyone. Most will be so embarrassed that they'll decline.
How to recognize them: They criticize everything you or others say. Tips for dealing with Skeptics: If they become negative or critical during the meeting, let them know that you're looking for solutions, not criticism. Then ask them to contribute.
Have you ever recognized the theater in your group’s meetings? Think about it for a moment – the boardroom is the stage, the participants are the characters and the meeting discussion is the script. Just like meetings, theater involves communication, interaction between characters, conflict, drama, double meanings, foreshadowing and, hopefully, problem resolution.
To be effective when working together, we need to identify our teammates’ character types and learn how to work best with them. As you read about these common characters, you’ll immediately identify the heroes and villains from your own meetings. But also ask yourself, "Which character am I?" If you discover you’re more like Distracted Kwame than Supportive Susan, don’t fret. When it comes to meetings, there’s a little bit of hero and villain in all of us.
The Heroes: Mensah the Inventor
He has initiative and imagination. He gets things started and offers ideas and solutions. He loves discovering the latest, greatest idea and being recognized as the creative genius. But he can have an extra-large ego and always requires recognition for what he contributes. Try to involve him as early as possible on any issue requiring a creative solution. Think of Mensah as the right side of your brain, the creative, intuitive side you or others in your group may be lacking.
Although she’s not as creative as Mensah, she’s certainly gifted at providing realistic direction for the group. She’s very focused and doesn’t easily get carried away with the excitement of a new idea. She understands what’s feasible and what’s unrealistic – perhaps to a fault since she only sees things in black and white. Although she’s the healthy dose of reality every group needs, Rebecca can be dangerous if she’s feeling pessimistic. She’ll find a reason why every idea won’t work in the real world. Remind her that the group is simply throwing around ideas for now, and judgments and evaluations should be discussed later.
Fafali the Facilitator
She’s great at clarifying an argument or idea without offending the speaker and very capable of interpreting and restating the group’s position. She isn’t afraid to ask questions and her inquiries make all points-of-view crystal clear. However, she can have trouble coming to a decision since she sees the good in both sides of every argument. While she’s excellent at moving an argument forward with her neutral perspective, don’t look to her too early in a debate because she may facilitate before any real conflict has materialized. Look to her when there’s a deadlock in the discussion.
Matthew’s often older, wiser and more experienced than other meeting participants. He has a natural talent for reducing tension with a joke or humorous perspective. Although this method doesn’t necessarily get to the bottom of the issues, it certainly helps to lighten the mood during intense moments. Invite him to meetings you know might be stressful. His comments make everyone realize that the crisis being discussed isn’t the end of the world – even though it may seem like it at the time.
She’s a supportive personality with a word of encouragement for all. Susan can easily find the positive in every statement, no matter how ridiculous. She encourages others to develop ideas and make suggestions, and she offers recognition for these ideas. She feels it’s her responsibility to make sure no one is left out of the discussion – she’ll even ask quiet members for their opinions. She may have trouble with hard choices, but unless she seeks responsibility, don’t burden her. She’s a supporter because that’s what she’s comfortable doing – and she’s good at it.
Sharon is painfully shy. She has a lot to offer the group, if you could only get her to speak up! Try to make her feel as comfortable as possible during your meeting. Start by asking her a simple question and make eye contact with her as she answers to let her know her input is valued. Recognize her contribution immediately and sincerely and encourage more. Shy people will open up, but only after some time. Once she starts contributing great ideas, you’ll be happy you were patient.
The Villains: Andy the Aggressor
Andy questions everything, criticizes ideas and attacks people personally. He wants attention and can’t get it through other means, so he always takes on the role of devil’s advocate. Andy sees problems but seldom offers solutions. To discourage negative behavior, try early on to give him the attention he requires. Ask for his ideas instead of allowing him to judge and criticize everyone else’s.
This character likes to show her disinterest in the meeting. She engages in side discussions, reads other materials and generally attempts to remain uninvolved. She’s usually harmless unless she also has tendencies of Andy the Aggressor, in which case treat her as you would Andy. Basically she craves attention so why not ask her to share her opinions of the discussion at hand? This way, at least she’s focused on the meeting issues and not on social interaction.
Peter the Pompous
He thinks he knows everything. Peter manipulates every conversation and seeks control. Sometimes he has great insights to share, but often he doesn’t. If he’s confronted directly in the meeting, he’ll only seek more control and become overbearing. Because Peter loves to share his knowledge, try to seek his advice prior to the meeting. He’ll love providing his expertise and perhaps won’t need to dominate the meeting discussion later. Try, finally, to establish a meeting procedure that affords equal time to others so that you don’t have tell Peter to back off during the meeting.
Irene never speaks up in meetings because, simply put, she couldn’t be bothered. She’s easy-going to a fault and makes a point of always going with the flow. She doesn’t get involved in meeting discussions or offer help or support to others. Frankly, meetings make her yawn and it requires too much effort to get involved – after all, it’s easier just to sit and let everyone else do the talking. To get Irene more involved and interested, ask her to plan and lead the next meeting. “Sir, did you say I should lead the next meeting?” “Yes Irene” “hmm okay we will see about that” Irene said that to herself and laughs within. I foresee Irene taking sick leave on that day.
Neal Hartman advises business leaders on the following ways to run effective, efficient meetings that leave your employees feeling energized and excited about their work. Here are some tips:
1. Make your objective clear. A meeting must have a specific and defined purpose. Before you send that calendar invite, ask yourself: What do I seek to accomplish? Are you alerting people to a change in management or a shift in strategy? Are you seeking input from others on a problem facing the company? Are you looking to arrive at a decision on a particular matter? Standing meetings with vague purposes, such as “status updates,” are rarely a good use of time.
2. Consider who is invited. When you’re calling a meeting, take time to think about who really needs to be there. If you’re announcing a change, invite the people who are affected by the announcement. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who will be good sources of information for a solution. When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they'll view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.
3. Stick to your schedule. Create an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover in the meeting, along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item, and email it to people in advance. Once you’re in the meeting, put that agenda up on a screen or whiteboard for others to see. This keeps people focused.
4. Take no hostages. Nothing derails a meeting faster than one person talking more than his fair share. If you notice one person monopolizing the conversation, call him out. Say, “We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.” Be public about it. Establishing ground rules early on will create a framework for how your group functions.
5. Start on time, end on time. If you have responsibility for running regular meetings and you have a reputation for being someone who starts and ends promptly, you will be amazed how many of your colleagues will make every effort to attend your meetings. People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable. Another note on time: Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. Sixty minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged.
6. Ban technology. The reality is that if people are allowed to bring iPads or BlackBerries into the room, they won't be focusing on the meeting or contributing to it. Instead, they’ll be emailing, surfing the web, or just playing around with their technology. Eyes up here, please, but before you practice step 6 remember to always follow step 5 (Sixty minutes meeting time).
7. Follow up. It’s quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, email a memo highlighting what was accomplished to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines. That way, everyone will be on the same page.
Meetings truly can be valuable and productive. You just have to take the steps to make them that way, the power is yours.