kirstin lindsay

3 communication problems faced in meetings and 9 facilitation strategies that will solve them

Even if you’re well organized, with a clear agenda and purpose, basic communication problems can arise that can derail your meeting very quickly. If it’s your job to moderate a meeting, you need to be able to get clear decisions without wasting too much time. Below, we present a few common communication problems and basic facilitation skills that can solve them and get your meeting back on track.

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Problem 1: Deadlock

Situation: The group discusses an issue fully, but no agreement can be reached because no one changes their opinion. Here’s an example:

Chris: That brings us back to the question: do we want to host the event in Denmark or Croatia?

Dana: It’s too cold in Denmark. Let’s go to Croatia.

Richard: I still don’t understand why we can’t just do it in Germany.

Mark: Russia! Russia! Russia!

Laura: We’ve been talking about this for an hour. Can’t we just choose one?

Strategies for dealing with deadlock

  • take a break and try again, but with a clear time limit to make a decision
  • make a temporary decision that can be changed later
  • use a problem-solving tool like the FOCUS model

Problem 2: Unimportant points

Situation: The group discusses trivial points and wastes time. For example:

Mike: So should the picture be on page 343 or page 344 of the report?

Strategies for dealing with unimportant points

  • as facilitator, give one person the power to make a final decision
  • scan the agenda and delete unimportant items before the meeting, then discuss those points with the relevant colleague privately
  • if there’s one idea that everyone seems to be happy with, name it as the choice and quickly move to the next point

Problem 3: stubbornness

Situation: One person sticks to their opinion no matter what anyone else says, and refuses to change their opinion. For example:

Tina: I don’t care what you say, I insist that we use Acme as our telephone company.

John: But Acme is the most expensive.

Tina: That’s true. But our telephone company must be Acme.

Strategies for dealing with stubbornness

  • ask questions to find out why your colleague insists on this one option. Maybe there is information the group doesn’t know that can help the discussion move forward. Insist on full answers to your questions.
  • rather than attacking what you see as a stubborn approach, try to put yourself in your colleague’s shoes. The situation might look differently from their perspective.
  • if the colleague still refuses to change, apologize and tell them that while you value their opinion, the group has made another choice
1 reply
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Good points Matt. I think the key is to always have a moderator or facilitator in the meeting. If you don’t have a clear leader who moves things along, it’s hard to get out of these situations. For us, we always decide who the moderator is at the start or their role is appointed before the meeting. This works for us, but I’m interested in seeing what others do.

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