Dealing with Difficult Meeting or Training Participants Tips
Managing Difficult Behaviors in Staff Meetings
By Patti Bertschler
Some meetings, I’d rather be getting a root canal. The chair/boss/speaker seems to have no control over some who hog the floor, refuse to speak at all, have side bars among themselves, or ramble on ad nauseam. You’ve been there too, I’d guess.
Part of conflict resolution training involves learning techniques to manage these difficult behaviors. Below are some tips I’ve learned that will help speakers and group leaders take back control of their audiences or staff meetings.
Highly argumentative. Keep your own temper firmly in check. Don’t allow the group to get excited either. Try finding merit in one of his points. Express your agreement (or get the group to); then move on to something else. When he makes an obvious misstatement, toss it to the group. Let them turn it down. As a last resort, talk to him privately during a break and try to learn what’s bothering him. See if you can win him over.
Know-it-all. In order to elevate their own self esteem, these folks need to put others down. Group can say, “I can see how you feel,” or “That’s one way of looking at it,” or I see your point, and can we reconcile that with (the true situation.)?” Know-it-alls must be handled delicately.
Won’t talk Your action will depend upon what is motivating him. Arouse interest by asking his opinion. Draw out the person next to him; then ask the quiet one to tell the person next to him what he thinks of the view expressed. If he is seated near you, ask his opinion so he’ll fee he is talking to you, not the group. If he is the “superior” type, ask for his viewpoint after indicating the respect held for his experience. Don’t overdo this. Group will resent it. If the sensitive type, compliment him the first time he does. Be sincere.
Side conversation Don’t embarrass them. Call one by name, asking her an easy question. Or, call by name then restate the last opinion expressed and ask her opinion of it. If during the meeting you are in the habit of moving around the room, saunter over and stand casually behind members who are talking. This should not be made obvious to the group.
Overly Talkative Don’t be embarrassing or sarcastic. You may need his/her talents later on. Slow the person down with some difficult questions. Interrupt with, “That’s an interesting point. Now let’s see what the group thinks of it.” In general, let the group take care of him/her as much as possible.
Off Topic. He’s not rambling; just off base. Take blame. “Something I said must have led you off subject. This is what we should be discussing.” Restate your point.
Rambler She talks about everything except the subject using far-fetched analogies and getting lost. When she stops for a breath, thank her. Refocus attention by restating relevant points and move on. Grin, tell her his point is interesting. Point to grease board and in a friendly manner indicate we’re a bit off subject or “That sounds like a side-bar for later.” Last resort, glance at your watch.
Personality clash This can divide your group. Emphasize points of agreement, minimize points of disagreement, and draw attention to the objective. Cut across with direct questions on topic. Bring a sound member into the discussion. Frankly ask that personalities be omitted.
Quick, too helpful She’s really trying to help but makes it difficult by keeping others out of the discussion. Cut across her tactfully by questioning others. Thank her, suggest “we put others to work.” Use her for summarizing.
Griper He has a pet peeve and is somewhat a professional griper. He may have a legitimate complaint, but is always making jabs. Point out we can’t change policy here, and that we need to operate as best we can under the system. Indicate you’ll discuss the problem with him privately later. Have group member answer him. Indicate pressure of time.
Always negative In a prior staff meeting, tell the group that you’d like to stop some of the negativity on staff and keep meetings more on point. If anyone has a constructive criticism to make or suggestion for improvement, he/she should state the point and add the suggestion for improvement. If someone slips and only offers a negative comment (without a good substitute for improvement), the entire group should say, “Next.” This is the gentle reminder to the speaker either to add something constructive, or stop speaking. Use the power of the group to make this positive change in attitude among themselves.
Psychologist, Alfred Adler, says that children’s behavior is not on purpose, but for a
purpose (Dreikurs, R,. Children: The Challenge, 1992). As we age, unless someone has checked our bad
behaviors in the past, we may carry these into adulthood. And when these bad behaviors
emerge in staff meetings or audiences, changing them now is a challenge to the speaker
or group leader. Using some of the above techniques may some relief. Be patient,
though, and don’t assume because it doesn’t work the first time, it will never work. As
my mother (and probably many of yours) said, “You can please some of the people some
of the time and none of the people all of the time…”