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Meetings—Managing People

Achieving your meeting objectives will be easier if you manage the people involved. A variety of behaviours will be demonstrated in any meeting, but there are many ways to deal with each.

  1. Dealing with aggressive behaviour can be tough. Strategies to use include:

    • Remaining calm. Showing anger allows the aggressors to feel that they have successfully caused you to lose your composure.

    • Allowing people to vent. If someone wants to discuss a problem that is not on the agenda but that he needs to get off his chest, let him vent for a short while. If his issue is legitimate, albeit off topic, show empathy by agreeing. When he is finished, ask if he is done, and if so whether you can proceed with the topic at hand.

    • Avoiding giving people a political platform. Don't allow people to use your meeting for their own political agendas. If someone's tone of voice is hostile and she begins to hijack your meeting, intervene when she stops for breath and point out firmly but politely that the matter may be important but that this is not the meeting at which it will be addressed.

    • Avoiding debates. If a person is totally out of line, making exaggerated claims or suggesting ridiculous ideas, don't debate with him. Canvass his peers to confirm that he alone holds that view. If there is general agreement that the hostile person's argument is invalid, confirm this by saying, "Well, it looks like no one agrees with you, so why don't we agree to discuss this later?" Then move on to the next item on the agenda.

    • Finding out the reason for a person's anger so that you can deal with it inside or outside the meeting. If the person feels that you empathize, even though you cannot solve the problem, she will be more inclined to co-operate. This can be done within the meeting, if the issue is relevant, or outside, if it is not.

    • Taking the person aside at a break or at the end of the meeting. Share your observations and frustrations. Ask for help in making the next meeting productive.

  2. You can bring out the best in quiet or withdrawn people if you:

    • Invite participation by maintaining eye contact and directing questions at them periodically.

    • Use the person's name when asking questions so no one else can answer.

    • Ask questions the person should be able to answer to encourage self-esteem.

    • Sit opposite the quietest person so that your conversation can be directed to him.

    • Make quiet people feel useful. Give them jobs that will increase their visibility. The role of recorder will ensure that the person is standing up while canvassing ideas from the group.

    • Use a round robin to collect ideas. This technique gives everyone a chance to express an idea. People who don't have one can pass.

    • Get opinions on issues by asking questions that require a yes or no response. Praise people without appearing patronizing if they expand on their ideas.

    • Give people advance notice of subjects to be dealt with in the meeting so they can collect their thoughts.

    • Canvass their ideas one on one outside the meeting. If necessary, express those ideas to the group, giving due credit for it.

  3. If someone tries to dominate your meeting, you can use many of the same techniques you use to deal with shy people. But they must be used in reverse. For example:

    • Sit next to the person and keep eye contact to a minimum.

    • Look at everyone but the dominator when posing questions to the group.

    • Point out the problem, outside the meeting, while expressing your appreciation for the input. Ask for help in keeping everyone involved.

    • Interject when the person stops to catch breath. You can say, "Thank you. What other opinions are there?"

    • Indicate your desire to get a variety of opinions before you ask a question.

    • Get opinions in sequence (round robin), reaching the dominant person last.

  4. If someone tries to sidetrack your meeting, you can:

    • Post the meeting objectives where they can be seen by all. Before the meeting begins, get agreement to stick to the agenda.

    • Point to the objective on the wall and ask if people could focus their comments on the central meeting purpose.

    • Ask how the issue is related to the subject under discussion.

    • Interrupt when the person takes a breath, with a comment such as "Thank you, but it appears that we are on to something else. Could we agree to get back on topic?"

    • Allot a "Parking Lot" on a flip chart to record issues unrelated to the meeting. Agree to deal with these issues later.


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