Meetings present a maze of problems

If you want to get the most out of the meetings you lead, you must know how to manage different situations as they come up. Any group of people working together will bring a wide range of needs and abilities that you can direct, much like a traffic cop at a busy intersection.  

Before we look at some problem situations, let's consider the important leadership characteristics that establish a healthy, participative atmosphere. Without these, your meeting may never get off the ground.

Don’t be a road hog.  Let them do at least 76% of the talking, or more. 

Don't use your meetings to get on your pulpit or podium. Be positive and encouraging by looking for the merit in people's comments and by encouraging incomplete, unusual or hesitant ideas.

Protect members from personal attack
Nothing will choke off participation faster than immediate evaluation or put-downs. This protection includes allowing everyone to get in their "two cents worth." Be honest and good humored about admitting your mistakes and not having all the answers. Don't be afraid to tell the group when you're upset, tired, distracted or in doubt. Being human can build trust and credibility. If you do, the group will stay on your side.
Paraphrase and clarify
Even when all else fails, these two techniques will probably save you. They are key, meeting-leading skills.  

Now lets look at some familiar problems and how to handle them, as discussed in the book, "How to Make Meetings Work," by Michael Doyle and David Straus.

The great silence
Avoid the temptation to fill the void. Wait for a while. If nothing happens, ask the group what the problem is. People may be confused, bored, lost or deep in thought. Don't be a mind-reader, and never assume.  

Ask for suggestions on what to do next. If nothing is offered, make a suggestion yourself and check out their acceptance. Or, ask each individual for his or her thoughts at the moment.  

It may be a good time to summarize what has happened up to this point. You might even suggest a short stretch or break, or ask them if it's time to move on to the next point. The important thing is to stay on their wavelength.

The traffic jam
When everyone talks at once, good ideas are lost and nothing is accomplished. Say, "Hold it everybody.  We will accomplish much more if one person speaks at a time."
The interrupter.
Sometimes people are impatient and excited, or afraid an idea will be lost if it isn't blurted out. Deal with the interrupter immediately. People will be watching to see if you protect their right to speak.  

Don't play favorites, either, even if the interrupter is a VIP. You could say, "Please hold on to your idea a moment, Frank. Let's let Mary finish what she was saying."

The rambler
Ramblers love meetings. They can smell a meeting from a department away. They often use this forum to voice complaints or share their years of experience.  

They may have a lot of good ideas to offer, but lose them on a restless audience. Force yourself to listen for a useful idea. Then, wait for a natural pause or break, confirm your understanding of the point in the story and ask someone else for an opinion.

The attacker
It's important to hear conflicting viewpoints, but when someone's idea or personality is attacked, it's time to blow the whistle.  

Paraphrase the attacker's idea, but leave out the personal references. Attack: "Where did you get an idea like that? You obviously haven't had any experience dealing with that department."  

Your paraphrased response: "Let's make sure we are capturing your criticisms. You feel that this suggestion is unrealistic and unworkable?"

Sometimes people are hesitant to state an objection. Whispering to someone nearby can destroy the concentration and trust in your meeting.  

Look directly at the conversers. If that doesn't work, say, "It looks like you have some ideas on this. Would you like to share them with the group?" Don't embarrass them, or the group may protect them and turn against you.

The Dropout
If someone is silent, doodling or reading, don't play "gotcha" by saying, "What do you think about that, Claudia?" She may be thinking about the problem at hand or preoccupied. Perhaps she shouldn't even be there if she has no interest in the discussion. 

You could try to bring her into the discussion by saying, "Claudia, I'd like to hear your ideas on this. I'll give you a moment to think. How about you, Jerry?"  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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