Dealing with difficult people in your meeting

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at planning your meeting, and running and reflecting on your meeting.

This week’s post is a more detailed look at dealing with difficult people in your meeting.

Executive Coach Exchange sheep pixabay malcolumbus
Don’t assume that everyone in your meeting will follow the flock.

It can be useful to think of your meeting attendees in 3 main groups.

  1. The disruptive

There are a number of factors which may lead meeting attendees to disrupt the agenda.

Some people will seek to dominate the meeting, out of habit or because they don’t recognise your authority or the validity of other viewpoints.  If this happens, it will mean that your voice and the voices of other attendees are not being effectively heard.

It’s your meeting – it’s important to enforce time limits, call for other points of view and actively manage someone who is dominating the discussion. Don’t let them become your focus; others in the room will want your meeting to be successful. If you keep focusing on the disruptive, you will give them control of the agenda.

Others will argue with the points you’re putting forward and it’s important to make an assessment of why this is happening.  We’ve written previously about the importance of distinguishing between obstructionists and sceptics, and embracing the genuine sceptics.  Part of this work will have to happen outside the meeting, but meetings themselves are a valuable source of information about the motivations of those who disrupt them.

Don’t expect to turn around disruptive behaviours in one session, but a consistent, assertive approach will see you getting your meetings back on track.

2. The disengaged

Bored? Distracted? Negative? Looking for a way out? Or uncomfortable with conflict?

It’s critically important not to just call out or disparage the disengaged as you risk causing someone who was temporarily distracted, unhappy or unconvinced, to move towards being a member of the disruptive group.

You also don’t know whether they are keeping a low profile due to conflict with other meeting attendees, or because their management’s viewpoint is not aligned with yours.

In our previous posts on meetings, we talked about planning for breaks to allow people to recharge and manage their distractions.  If you’ve done this and people are still appearing to be switched off, or holding side conversations, you need to take responsibility for bringing the focus of the distracted back to the meeting without engaging in personal criticism.

You may need:

  • to make a genuine call for input;
  • to allow time on the agenda for this group to present their opinions formally;
  • or it may be that you need to take tighter control of the agenda because this group has switched off – potentially because the disruptive group is dominating the conversation in a way that makes them uncomfortable or even distressed.

If you can gain understanding of whether the disengagement is due to personal or professional reasons, and whether it’s temporary or ongoing, you can address disengagement appropriately, maintaining the respect of the disengaged individuals and the group as a whole.

Most importantly, in planning for and dealing with the disruptive and the disengaged, don’t forget a third group:

3. Your supporters

Sometimes when the disruptive and the disengaged are taking up a lot of time and focus, it’s easy to take your supporters for granted.  However, you need to minimise the distractions posed by the other groups as it’s your supporters who will help you move through your agenda and achieve your goals.

In our change management series, we also wrote about looking at the motivations of your supporters.  When you are trying to achieve change through meetings, it’s important to understand why your supporters support you and to ensure you’re managing their concerns and interests appropriately, so that their support for you and your goals continues.

An executive coach can work with you to understand the motivations of your meeting group, work through scenarios and practice assertiveness skills to ensure that your meetings achieve your goals no matter who attends.

Running an engaging meeting

Last week we looked at how to set up a successful meeting.  This week, we look at running an engaging meeting that will support your overall goals.

  1. Own your meeting

You’ve called people together. It’s your responsibility to make the meeting successful. If you have added items to the agenda, take ownership of these and get them through. If you have prepared well, these items should be the most straightforward of the day.

2. Bring a minute-taker

You can’t chair a meeting effectively and take the minutes yourself. Bring a minute-taker and empower them to check they have recorded the decisions correctly before you move on to the next agenda item. In this way, you can create an accurate record of your meeting that everyone has agreed as the meeting progresses. This includes assigning tasks and timeframes to the right people during the meeting.

3. Reward the punctual

Always start the meeting on time. Begin by welcoming everyone and ensuring everyone knows everyone else in the room. The next step is to acknowledge traditional Owners of Country, and then step through the agenda.

Go through the minutes of the previous meeting and check the group agrees they are an accurate record. Once the minutes are agreed, check the progress of every action.

4. Other business

Everyone hates it when, just as a meeting is drawing to a close, someone starts adding extra items to the agenda. Call for ‘other business’ at the beginning of the meeting. Decide if any of these can be considered under items which are already on the agenda. Add any essential items to the end of the agenda – but list the rest for the next meeting. ‘Other business’ should only be for urgent items which have emerged since the papers were sent out. Don’t let people use them to raise personal preoccupations that are best dealt with in another forum.

Executive Coach Exchange meetings hans pixabay
“At today’s meeting, I’ll be reading the slides word for word.”

5. Pay attention

Watch people’s body-language. Notice:

  • who makes eye contact, with whom and when
  • who are the allies and who are the antagonists – is this stable or does it depend on the matter being discussed
  • who looks uncomfortable and why

If it’s a long meeting, when people get restless call a break. Make it long enough for people to check their devices and have a chat. A lot of goodwill can be gained in a meeting break.

Paying attention is your most important role as chair.

6. Set the tone

Set the tone yourself. If you are checking emails and not paying attention, you are sending a strong message that you don’t think your own meeting is important. Be involved in every item and take an active part in the discussion.

7. Give everyone a say

The purpose of a meeting is to allow discussion and information exchange. If only one person is talking, that message can usually be better conveyed in writing.

Some people can talk under wet cement. Others will wait to be invited and yet may have the most important things to say. Make sure everyone’s opinion is heard and taken on board. While it’s essential you steer the meeting, you don’t need to speak all the time to do this.

8. Push for an agreed decision

You have got the decision-makers at your meeting. While discussion is important, decisions also need to be made now. Push through to a consensus and ensure the decisions are recorded.

9. Thank people

Acknowledge the time and effort of the people who came to your meeting and thank your staff publicly for running it well.

10. Act on the actions

It’s essential to get the minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting, while the decisions are still fresh in everyone’s minds. Although the minutes will still be in draft, if they were agreed during the meeting, there should be few changes so people with actions can get them done.

11. Evaluate

After the meeting, consider thoughtfully and thoroughly what went well and what didn’t. Evaluate your own performance and decide if your meeting was worthwhile. Get feedback from trusted people. Plan for continuous improvement in your meetings.

Finally, if you decide the meetings are a waste of everyone’s time, and nothing can save them, cancel them and find another way to get views heard and decisions made.

Next week we’ll look in more depth at dealing with difficult people in your meeting, an important topic in its own right.

Oh no – not another meeting!

We’ve all found ourselves in this situation – dreading the boredom of another pointless meeting. Yet, when it’s our turn, we still call people together. If meetings are such a waste of time, why do we keep having them?

And how can you make meetings work for you, now you are the chair?

This is the first post in a series of our top tips for giving your meeting the best chance of success.

Good preparation ensures the best outcomes.

  1. Set a tight agenda

Make sure to set a tight agenda that only contains issues that need to be discussed when the group gets together. This means your items should be important to the organisation, strategic and controversial. They should be items where different views need to be heard.

Executive Coach Exchange meetings bored pixabay pixel-mixer
Oh no. Not another meeting.

Don’t make the meeting longer than it needs to be. Administrivia is a waste of everyone’s time – deal with it another way.

  1. Involve key stakeholders in setting the agenda

Call for agenda items from the group well in advance. If papers are required, ensure the group gets enough time to read and consider them before the meeting. Including items from other people gives them ownership in the meeting’s success. However, you also need to understand why these items have been added so you are not caught out by a hidden agenda.

Go through the minutes of the previous meeting, check the progress of action items and ensure as many tasks as possible have been completed.

Make sure attendees are aware whether the meeting, or individual items, are confidential, before the meeting begins. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for confidentiality acknowledgements for highly sensitive material.

  1. Get the decision-makers in the room

Meetings are about decisions, so you need to get the decision-makers at your meeting. The more important the decision, the more important it is to get the people with the authority to make decisions to attend. Consider what people expect to gain from coming to your meeting.

  1. Dealing with substitutes

If people want to send a substitute, make it clear that decisions will be made and their substitute will be part of those decisions. If people are constantly sending substitutes, they are telling you that your meeting is not important. Ask yourself whether they need to be part of the group at all and, if they are needed, ask them why they are not attending.

  1. Schedule the meetings well in advance and set the mode

To make sure people can attend, fix the dates and venues of your meetings at the beginning of the year and don’t move them. Decide whether people can attend virtually to reduce travel time. If a meeting must be face-to-face for people travelling long distances, make sure the content is worth their while. You can waste a lot of relationship capital by insisting on personal attendance for meetings with routine content.

  1. Set the meeting up properly

Delegate the set up to someone you trust. Make sure the meeting room is properly set-up before the meeting starts. Provide food and drink if the meeting is to go for more than 2 hours or if people have travelled a long way to get there. Without a practical set up, you risk losing engagement.

  1. Controversial items

Talk to people before the meeting as items and papers are being developed and take their concerns on board. Enlist allies to speak in support of your items. Know what objectors will say before they speak. Anticipate questions and address these in your papers. Make sure you know what members will say and, if applicable, how they will vote, before the meeting starts.

Next week – running your meeting.

Dealing with different communication styles in the workplace

Do you feel you are often talking at cross purposes with your colleagues?

Have you experienced your reports reacting to your input in a confrontational way when you weren’t expecting it?

Or do you find that your managers don’t seem to understand the importance of the message that you’re trying to deliver?

Executive Coach Exchange communication unsplash pixabayThe significance of different communication styles in the workplace has been extensively discussed, but is easy to overlook at an individual, in-the-moment level when you really need to get your message across.

There are several useful diagnostic tools for communication styles, including this questionnaire from TP3 and this one from The Vantage Point. These can assist you in analysing your own communication style, but the issue of how to work well with colleagues with different styles can still present a challenge.

TP3 notes that it’s important not to use your communication style as an excuse not to interact as effectively as possible with colleagues who have different styles. This can be a challenge, especially for new managers who may be prone to thinking, “This is my style and my reports need to adapt to it”.

So, how can you address this issue?

Mark Goulston wrote this useful article giving some detailed, CBT-style suggestions on how to listen to colleagues when your communication styles don’t match. He points out , “… many of us see our conversational counterparts as lecturing, belaboring, talking down to us, or even shaming us (if we are venters and they are explainers) or as invasive, out of control, and overly emotional (if we’re an explainer and they’re a venter).”

The Harvard Business Review contributed these suggestions on how to work out, and work with, a manager’s communication style. The article recommends specific, explicit communications that take account of the manager’s communication style – including whether the manager may prefer a written report to a detailed conversation – in order to communicate effectively.

For managers, it’s important to remember that effective communication can help you get the best from your team. This article by Rosalind Cardinal points out that “managers with the most flexibility in style get the best outcomes from their people”.

An executive coach can help you tailor your own communication style to your colleagues’, and also work with you to understand, rather than merely react to, your colleagues’ different communication styles. Effective communication only becomes more important as you advance in your career and need to communicate effectively with senior management and stakeholders.  In future posts, we’ll also look at this issue in the context of working with boards.