Coping with Meeting Disrupters
here are several common difficult behavior patterns that are
demonstrated at meetings. Here are a few with suggestions on actions to
take to alleviate the problem the behavior presents.
1. There are those who like to ask questions which may or may not be
appropriate. This can stem from real curiosity, a desire to help the
group by recounting a previous experience, or just wanting attention.
Listen but set a time limit. If the question is pertinent, it could
set off a good discussion. An alternative is to state upfront that
questions will be taken at the end of the report or presentation.
Sometimes giving the people the job of recording the ideas keeps them
too occupied to interrupt.
2. Someone who argues or complains may be motivated by a feeling that
their needs are not being addressed, is annoyed with someone in the
group, is having a bad day, or is perhaps naturally combative. It may
be best to let the person express his or her opinion and then restate
the viewpoint to ensure clarity. Tell that person that the matter can
be discussed more fully later. If the complaint is legitimate to the
topic, list positive and negative forces involved. Encourage the group
to respond as well.
3. Dominators may work from a base of wanting to show off or
demonstrate how well informed they are. The leader should remind the
group to keep comments concise, clear, and focused. Proper structuring
ensures that all members participate. The competitor wants to win every
point whether or not the argument is any good. Remind this speaker that
he or she can't always be right and that other comments also deserve to
4. Ramblers tend to be preoccupied with their own interests and are
either unaware of or uninterested in the goals of the group. It is
important to validate the person's comments but redirect them to the
subject and task. Digressers may misunderstand a task or seem
distracted by another issue. If clarification is in order, do it
quickly so as not to frustrate other members of the group. Otherwise,
just acknowledge the comment and move on.
5. We've all been frustrated by others who hold private side
conversations. They may be sharing their reaction or viewpoint,
discussing a matter not related to that meeting, or catching up on
personal news. Solutions? Separate the talkers, ask them to include
everyone in the conversation, direct a specific question regarding the
topic at one of them, or make the person the recorder. Another great
tactic is to stop the meeting and be silent 'this should embarrass the
talkers into stopping. A tactful technique is to ask that only one
person speak at a time as that leads to easier listening and better
6. The joker can lighten up a dreary meeting with a little levity. But
some individuals go overboard. Then there is the sarcastic one, the
person who can't resist a snide remark. A bad tone for the meeting
ensues as this person belittles what others say. Cut the tirade by
stating that such remarks be withheld during the meeting.
7. The objector likes to remind co-workers that it's been done before
with no success or that the idea has little merit and probably wouldn't
work. This can stem from lack of knowledge or understanding, fear of
change, or laziness. Another problem is the person who tries to form a
coalition to pressure the group to accept and back him or her and what
they think would be a better way. If you can't get these people to be a
more constructive part of the team, don't invite them to future
While it is the leaders responsibility to keep the group focused on the
meeting topic, help is usually given by the rest of the participants via
pointed comments or looks. Meeting disrupters don't have to be
tolerated; politely challenge their behavior and get back on track.
After all, most of us don't enjoy spending much time in meetings and the
sooner we get back to "real work", the happier we are.
About the Author
Copyright 2002 by Virginia Reeves. This article may be reprinted; inform the author via mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on creativity, success, communication, and enhancing your skills and talents for more growth,
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