Have you ever noticed the similarities between business and theater?
A director manages the personalities of the actors they cast in their film. Some of them are quiet and easy but most of them are “larger than life.” The director works hard to get the best work out of each actor and help the cast work in harmony.
Meeting facilitators must also manage the personalities and characteristics of the participants to get the best results. And the participants – who may have an important role in the meeting and be subject matter experts – can be angry, silent, argumentative, distracted and more.
Do any of these characters sound familiar? Here’s a description of the cast in one of your meetings – past or future -- and suggestions for managing their difficult characteristics. In a moment you will meet Tammy, Andy, Wendy, Charlie, Ollie, Max, Donna, and Victor!
Keep in mind that all of your meeting planning is critical to limiting disruptive meeting behavior. By getting input and buy-in on the agenda, communicating meeting date and logistics, and inviting the right people, you will set your meeting up for success.
For difficult participants, consider asking them for assistance in making the meeting useful and effective, giving them an important role on the agenda to get their buy-in, and offering them coaching or feedback on the impact of their disruptive behavior.
Talkative Tammy loves the sound of her own voice and it’s difficult for her to listen to other people talk.
Why does she have a hard time listening to other people? She might be talking because she thinks that’s the expectation or she might keep talking because she doesn’t feel that her knowledge, experience, or expertise are appreciated. In that case, giving her a specific role in presenting the content or asking her to serve as a mentor to others in the session or at their small table can be helpful.
Don’t insult her but don’t let her dominate the meeting either.
Andy the Arguer is quick to find fault with the ideas or plan.
Andy’s anger might not have anything to do with the meeting; he might have gotten a parking ticket or had a bad day. You can try to understand why Andy is angry but don’t fuel the flames of his anger. Your goal is to dignify him but limit his disruptive behavior.
Withdrawn Wendy sits like a bump on a log, not contributing to the conversation and barely making eye contact.
You can’t assume she’s trying to be difficult or not interested. She might be listening intently, shy, depressed, afraid, or just tired. She might be uncomfortable speaking in front of groups or she might be fearful of speaking in front of someone specific in the room. Or maybe she feels like her comments aren’t valued or respected.
You can’t spend all your attention during the meeting trying to engage her, nor should you ignore her. You might try to talk to her before the meeting to engage in small talk or ask if there is anything that you can do differently so that she will feel more comfortable speaking up.
Charlie the Complainer complains about anything and everything. If the complaint is valid, there probably is a workload or organizational issue that is distressing him. You should acknowledge the issue and thank him for raising it, apologize for the inconvenience, figure out the remedy and timeline for resolution, thank him again, and move on.
If the complaint is not valid, Charlie is letting off steam and you’ll need to manage his behavior. Don’t let Charlie dominate the meeting. Don’t argue with Charlie, insult him, or get defensive.
Optimistic Ollie sees the world through rose-colored glasses… literally. Whether due to youth or inexperience, Ollie is convinced that if everyone would just put their agendas and baggage aside, the world would indeed be a better place. These days, it’s far too easy to simply see the bleak side of life at times – and if you’re not careful, negativity can take root in your meeting – so be sure to acknowledge and thank Ollie for her positive outlook and encouragement.
New people – whether starting out in their career, or simply new to your organization –are often freer to think more creatively because they aren’t encumbered by the history of “how things are done here,” (in terms of what’s been tried before, or the limits of your organization). They can bring fresh perspectives – if you allow them to.
Mobile Max. Will not. Put. The phone. Down. Constantly distracted by his phone’s text notifications and reminders, Max even walks out of meetings he’s key to for that “all-important call.”
We have to make sure Max knows that we know that he’s busy – and that we’re busy too -- but that his participation is essential.
Max really might have a crisis that needs attention, so we can’t assume that he’s just looking at Instagram. He also might be unprepared for the meeting, not invested in the conversation or outcome, or unaware of meeting etiquette.
It’s important to let Max know how important his contributions are.
Distracting Donna can’t help herself from having side conversations and distracting others from your agenda. She might get up to go to the bathroom, pull out paperwork, rummage through her purse, or look at her phone.
Maybe Donna doesn’t understand her role in the meeting, and so she doesn’t feel the need to give your meeting her full attention. Or maybe she simply doesn’t understand the importance of the topic, or even sees the whole thing as a waste of time.
Victor the VP immediately dampens the natural energy of any meeting. His mere presence is enough to keep people from expressing their opinions or “out of the box” creative ideas.
In this instance, as the meeting facilitator, you have to assess if this is unique to Victor and his personality (such as, does he have a tendency to shoot down ideas that don’t agree with his worldview)? Or is it because the employees are very conscious of “levels” in your organization and are intimidated by anyone from the executive suite?
While you’re not going to change organizational culture, as the meeting facilitator, you do help to set the “culture” of the meetings you run.
Remember: Organizations are filled with a cast of characters… Your meeting is just a subset of that cast. As the meeting facilitator, your job is to accomplish the meeting objective by bringing out each participants’ strengths and managing their challenging characteristics.
If your firm’s meetings aren’t as productive or efficient as you’d like them to be, check out our Meeting & Facilitation Skills coaching services to help your employees get more from their meetings.