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Handling difficult and disruptive people in meetings

 “I am really enjoying my new role as Lean Audit Manager! The only issue is, meetings can sometimes be very challenging as I don’t always get the support and cooperation of everyone attending.” Claudia, a very experienced and highly qualified engineer who had recently been appointed as lean audit manager, said this to me a few weeks ago. Naturally, some team members can feel uncomfortable when their processes and working methods are scrutinized and analyzed. It is not unusual for this discomfort to surface in meetings as difficult and disruptive behaviour.  The end result is that meetings can become unfocussed, unruly and unsatisfactory.  The same is true for any meeting – sometimes some people behave badly.

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Countering disruptive behaviour

First of all remember this is your meeting, you have set the agenda and it is up to you make it work. Having said that, let’s look at some typical types of disruptive behaviour, what we can do to manage it and some useful English phrases.

Someone is monopolizing the discussion

Some people love the sound of their own voice and will talk at length on any and every point and deny other people the opportunity to be heard.

  • Stop them, thank them for their contribution and move on to the next point or next speaker: “That’s really very interesting Thorsten but we really need to hear from Angela / move on to the next item.”
  • Draw their attention to the agenda and agreed timeframes:  “We have already spent more time on this topic than agreed and we need to progress to the next point or we will run out of time.”
  • Set a time limit:  “OK Andrea you have 30 seconds to finish your point.”

Someone is promoting a personal agenda

Some people seem oblivious to the actual agenda and seem intent on pursuing their own. If this behaviour is not quickly checked the meeting is in real danger of completely losing its focus. Keyis to step in early, stop them from talking and get back to the agenda.

  • “Eric, what you’re saying has nothing to do with our current agenda. I want to bring Petra in to give us the update we are waiting for.”
  • “Thank you for that insight – it has been noted in the minutes but now we must return to the matter at hand.”
  • “John, I realize this is something you feel strongly about but it has no relevance in today’s meeting.”

People are having side conversations

 You will often find people who are intent on making comments, or having a conversation with their neighbour. Apart from being bad manners it is also very distracting. There are a number of techniques to handle this situation. For one, you can stop the meeting discussion, be quiet and look at the people talking. Very often they will feel uncomfortable and fall silent very quickly.

  • Invite them to share their conversation with the rest of the group: “I don’t think everybody can hear you. Could you speak up, so we can all get the benefit of what you have to say?”
  • Simply ask them to stop: “Could you please save your discussion for after the meeting and rejoin the group discussion? Thank you.”
  • Focus them on the goal/outcome: “We will make much better progress if we could all focus on the matter at hand.”

Don’t assign blame

If individuals are behaving badly resist the temptation to single them out. This can lead to a hardening of attitudes. Instead highlight the unacceptable behaviour and its negative impact. Think about your own style as well as the needs and preferences of those attending your meeting. This will help you to find the most appropriate and most effective way of handling difficult behaviors in your meetings.

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