Meeting Tips - How to Manage People
Who Disrupt Meetings

by Mike Song, Tim Burress, and Vicki Halsey

How to manage meetings to avoid disruptions. Certain people have a knack for disrupting, distracting, and disintegrating potentially great meetings. These folks are often well-intentioned, but they wouldn’t know meeting etiquette if it bonked them on the head. Here’s a guide for taming your meeting monsters and getting more done.

Argh! You've planned this meeting for two months and finally all the key players are here – well, except for the ones who are late! All you have to do is work through the agenda, get a decision made, and your dream project is on its way.

Suddenly, disaster strikes as strong “personalities” come into play. Before you know it, your meeting is bogged down, your agenda is out the window, and you’re left watching your project dwindle away.

Your meeting is a casualty of “meeting monsters” – the kiss of death for productivity. Certain people have a knack for disrupting, distracting, and disintegrating potentially great meetings. These folks are often well-intentioned, but they wouldn’t know meeting etiquette if it bonked them on the head. Here’s a guide for taming your meeting monsters and getting more done.

Larry Late
Larry always has an excuse for being late. “An important client called at the last second!” “I had to put out a fire!” Larry believes that being late proves he’s busy and important. Wrong! You know that Larry is really hurting his professional image by wasting everyone’s time.

Quick Tip: The best defense is a great offense. State explicitly in your meeting invite that everyone should plan on being a few minutes early so they don’t hold things up. Next, leave a firm voicemail message for Larry letting him know that you need him to play a crucial role at the start of the meeting and that it would be quite embarrassing if he were to miss his chance to shine. Build that role into your agenda and watch Larry pop in two minutes before show time…prepared, looking sharp, and ready to rock!

Ernie the Emailer
Ernie spends most of the meeting huddled over his PDA doing the BlackBerry Prayer. During virtual meetings you can hear him clacking away on email, cheerfully ignoring one important issue after another. What Ernie doesn’t know is that a recent survey conducted by infoexcellence.com indicates that 78% of all professionals consider this behavior really annoying!



Quick Tip: When the meeting starts, ask people to “TTO” – Turn Technology Off – to whatever extent possible, and focus. Designate a scribe so that Ernie can’t use the old “I’m taking notes” excuse. Upgrade teleconferences to web meetings to make it a harder for Ernie to disappear into his inbox. During virtual web meetings let participants use the chat box to chime in whenever they like. This will keep Ernie off of Twitter and focused on the business at hand.

Henrietta the HPPO
Every meeting has a HPPO. That’s the Highest Paid Person Onboard (HPPO), and their opinion counts twice as much as everyone else’s. Since everyone wants to please the Big Kahuna, scrambling to accommodate her every whim can turn casual suggestions into misguided tangents.

Quick Tip: Head off HPPOmania by quickly reviewing a list of the impractical or impossible options that your team has eliminated in prior meetings. This will focus the discussion on areas of real importance, helping the HPPO save face and perhaps contribute some much needed wisdom to your initiative.

Ted Tangent
Ted likes to chase shiny things. He’s a brilliant guy but he loves to derail your meeting with an endless stream of “What if?” and “How about this?” diversions. You end up talking about everything except the crucial issues facing your team.

Quick Tip: Empower team members to ask the following question when things are getting off track: Is this new topic more important and urgent than the current agenda items? In most cases, this answer is obvious: Heck no! If you keep doing this, Ted will eventually begin to filter his off-the-wall ideas and your meetings will be much more productive.

Dr. No
Dr. No loves to say no. Something has gotten under his skin and he just can’t bring himself to agree on the course of action outlined by the group. Where the team sees opportunity with little risk, he sees disaster and the end of the world as we know it.

Quick Tip: Listen carefully to Dr. No. Usually there is a grain of truth in his negative responses. If you feel that he’s playing the devil’s advocate only to drive you bananas, then pause the meeting and ask, “Gee, it seems like you have some real misgivings about the direction we’re considering. Do you feel there is absolutely no way this can work?” In most cases, Dr. No will back off a bit when asked to define his skepticism in such stark terms. Use this opening to ask him what would work and you will at least be moving in the right direction. Finally, if Dr. No won’t budge, put the suggestion to a vote and move on.

Terry the Talkaholic
Terry is afraid of closure. Moving to the next agenda item is scary for her. She can always think of one more way to clobber that poor dead horse. So she cycles around and around causing your meeting to circle the drain while everyone wonders, “Why am I here?”

Quick Tip: Use GEPO to break the cycle and stay on track. GEPO stands for Good Enough Press On. Agree with the team that any agenda item that has morphed from “well done” to “burnt toast” will trigger a call of “GEPO” from team members. Just discussing this technique will reinforce the importance of focusing and moving forward. As a result, you’ll get more done.

Silence of the Sams
It’s as though Sam’s mouth is glued shut. Like a clam he won’t ask questions, respond to comments, or even laugh at jokes. If you have a bunch of Sams in your meeting, be prepared to carry the conversational load. But here’s the hitch. Silent Sam is really smart and probably has some great ideas that would help the team move forward.

Quick Tip: Give Sam a speaking role. For example, at the beginning of the meeting have Sam review the action items from the last meeting. Once he begins to talk, encourage him by asking him for his input a little later. Step by step he will begin to contribute and everyone on your team will benefit.

Managing your meeting monsters effectively helps you keep your meetings on track, reduce redundant future meetings, and get more done.

Mike Song is America’s leading business etiquette and productivity speaker, coach, and researcher. He is the co-developer of the "Get Control" productivity webinar and seminar series. Vicki Halsey is an optimal learning strategist, consultant, and vice president of Applied Learning for the Ken Blanchard Companies. Tim Burress is an efficiency expert and cofounder, with Song, of Cohesive Knowledge Solutions. Song, Halsey, and Burress are coauthors of The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done (Berrett-Koehler, 2009, $19.95, www.hamsterrevolution.com).

Content copyright 2009 by cohesive knowledge solutions, inc. Permission to reprint granted and encouraged. Copyright strictly enforced on exact reprints and adaptations.

 
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