If you have any experience managing meetings, it’s likely you’ve had to manage both difficult meetings and difficult behaviors. Believe it or not, you don’t have to endure difficult behavior.
Let’s look at five common types of difficult behaviors and how you can manage them.
Five Common Difficult Meeting Behaviors
The Dominators. These folks take over the conversation. They share at length, they have an opinion about every topic, and they take up valuable time.
The Naysayers. They argue every point, big or small. They argue with everyone.
The Silent but Deadly. They say nothing. And you don’t know whether it’s because they are shy, have no opinion, are daydreaming, or are planning how to be your worst nightmare.
The Rabbit Trailblazers. They have a lot of ideas, many of which are not relevant to the discussion. They lead the team down a path, or many paths, that end you up further away from where you needed to be than before the meeting ever started.
The Multi-taskers. Their eyes are on phones, tablets, and various other devices. They may appear busy, but are not engaged in the conversation.
Why you should address these behaviors, and address them now.
These behaviors are not individual personality issues. These are team issues. If you do not manage disruptive behaviors, you reinforce them at the expense of the team’s morale, engagement, trust, and creativity. Disruptive behaviors will create frustration among the team members.
Managing difficult meeting behaviors is not entirely the leader’s responsibility, but utilizing your role as the team or meeting leader is an opportunity to start enacting change. You can create an environment where difficult behaviors are managed, and everyone on the team is empowered to make a difference.
Look for the Underlying Reason and Address the Behavior Holistically
Why do they dominate the conversation? It’s easy to assume the dominators love to hear themselves talk and don’t care about others. However, it might be that they are anxious about silence in the room and want to speak for others. They might be sincerely excited to share ideas immediately. Or, they might just think out loud, needing to talk through their thoughts to make sense of them.
What you can do: Acknowledge their ideas, summarize what they said, and move on to someone else. For example, “I hear you saying, ‘x, y, and z.’ That’s interesting. I’d like to hear what other think about that. Let’s go around the room. Each person has two minutes.” You can also establish meeting norms like “balance sharing with listening” so you can refer to the norm as a gentle way to remind these individuals to give someone else the mic.
Why do they argue? It’s possible they don’t really disagree, but tend to look for the watchout or problems in every scenario. In other words, they might be playing devil’s advocate. Or, they might be frustrated or upset about something and taking it out on the conversation. It is also likely they have no idea how much they are affecting others.
What you can do: Confront the argument and/or turn it over to the group to consider and then decide. For smaller points, note their concerns so they feel heard, but keep moving forward. For example, “That’s a valid point, however, the consensus seems to be for us to do a, b, and c, and that’s how we are going to proceed.” Make time outside of the meeting to speak with them about how their negative outlook is affecting the group.
The Silent but Deadly:
Why are they silent? You might assume they are checked-out, refuse to contribute, or opposed to all the ideas. However, they might formulate thoughts internally, going through a mental process before they share. They might be waiting for an invitation to share ideas. They might not feel comfortable or know everyone’s opinion is valued.
What you can do: Invite them to join the conversation by calling them by name to see if they have any thoughts to share. If you don’t want to put them on the spot, using a facilitation method that doesn’t involve fast response might help. For example, ask everyone to write down ideas, and then go around the room for everyone to share. You should also start every meeting with a proper check-in procedure so everyone’s voice is heard at the beginning and people feel empowered to talk again.
The Rabbit Trailblazers:
Why do they go off on tangents? You probably think they are too talkative, don’t know what they think, and are easily distracted. Instead, they might have some needs that weren’t met or issues left unresolved from previous conversations or in another context. They are also probably processing information verbally.
What you can do: Share your observation that the current discussion is off topic. Rabbit chasers are often aware of their tendency to do that, and a simple course correction is often sufficient to do the job. Where appropriate, note their ideas, let them know those will be addressed later, and put them on the backburner. Help them relate to the agenda and specific objectives of the meeting. Starting the meeting with a check-in will also help these individuals unload any distractions upfront.
What are they doing? It’s easy to assume they are disengaged, not focused, don’t care, and don’t respect others. However, they might not feel they are part of the conversation, or that they can contribute to the discussion. They might feel their presence is unnecessary, or, they might actually be doing other work.
What you can do: Use eye contact or a long pause to help them recognize the behavior. Have an offline conversation to understand their behavior and perspective. You should also remind them that others perceive this behavior as disrespectful. Going forward, double-check to make sure only critical people are invited to the meeting.
Difficult Meeting Behaviors Aren’t Always Intentional
Most people do not walk into a meeting thinking they are going to be disruptive. When you encounter difficult behaviors, don’t judge too quickly. Look for patterns in the behavior. Is it frequent? Does it happen at specific types of meetings or close to major deadlines? Is it the same participants who are disruptive? Is it among participants who don’t get along?
There are many factors that contribute to disruptive meeting behaviors. However, before the behaviors becomes chronic, you need to address them. What is the most unbearable behavior you have encountered in meetings? What did you do to address the behavior?
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