Managing People at Your Meetings

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Cy Charney

Achieving your meeting objectives will be possible only if you can manage the people involved. Since there are a variety of behaviors that occur in the meeting, there are many ways to deal with each.

Dealing with Aggressive Behavior

  • Remain calm. Showing anger allows the aggressors to feel that they have successfully caused you to lose your composure.
  • If people want to discuss a problem not on the agenda, but which they need to get off their chest, let them vent their feelings for a short while. If their issue is legitimate, albeit off topic, show empathy by agreeing. When they are finished, ask if they are done and, if so, whether you can proceed with the topic at hand.
  • Don’t allow people to use your meeting for their own political agendas. If their tone of voice is hostile and they begin to hijack your meeting, intervene when they stop for a breath and point out firmly but politely that the matter may be important but this is not the meeting at which it will be addressed.
  • If people are totally out of line, making exaggerated claims or suggesting ridiculous ideas, don’t debate with them. Canvass their peers to confirm that they alone hold 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 closure and the next item on the agenda.
  • Sometimes a person’s aggression in a meeting is symptomatic of another problem. Try to find out the cause of the anger, dealing with it as quickly as you can. This can be done inside the meeting, if the issue is relevant, or outside, if it is not.
  • Take 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.

Dealing with Quiet and Withdrawn People

  • 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 that individual.
  • 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 an idea can pass.
    Give them advance notice of subjects to be dealt with in the meeting so that they can collect their thoughts.
    Canvass their ideas one-on-one outside of the meeting. If necessary express their idea to the group, giving them credit for it.

Dealing with People Who Dominate Meetings

  • Many of the same techniques you use to deal with shy people can be used in reverse with someone who has little time for the ideas of others.
  • Sit next to the person and keep eye contact to a minimum.
  • Look at everyone but the dominator when posing questions to the group.
  • Outside of the meeting, point out the problem while expressing your appreciation for the input. Ask for help in keeping everyone involved.
  • Interject when the person stops to catch a breath. You can say, “Thank you; what other opinions are there?”
  • Indiicate your desire to get a variety of opinions before you ask a question.
    Get opinions in sequence (round-robin), reaching the dominant person last.

Dealing with People Who Sidetrack Meetings

  • Post the meeting objectives where they can be seen by all. Before the meeting begins, get agreement to stick to the agenda.
  • 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 as if we are on to something else. Could we agree to get back on topic?”
  • Allot a Parking Lot on a flipchart to record issues unrelated to the meeting. Agree to deal with these issues later.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Manager’s Tool Kit: Practical Tips for Tackling 100 On-the-Job Problems by Cy Charney. Published by AMACOM.

About the Author(s)

Cy Charney is president of his own consulting firm, which provides clients with innovative strategies to improve their performance. Charney also delivers customized training programs and workshops and is a much sought-after keynote speaker.