At Every Meeting, There’s One in Every Crowd…and that’s OK!

They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes.  I would add meetings to that list.  Most of us must regularly attend meetings.  Some of us dread them.  Why? Because there’s “one in every crowd”.  You know…that one person you work with who hijacks the entire agenda at the staff meeting, or the one who picks a fight with whoever dares to disagree with her point of view.  Or that one angry guy in town, who shows up at every town council meeting, sits in the front row and yells and screams at the council members while they just sit there and suffer in silence. Not only do these kinds of meeting behaviors often create tension and cause conflict with others, they seriously impede our ability to get anything done.

A typical response to these behaviors is to label that person (even if only in our own minds) as “a problem.”  Consequently, from that point on, we only see this person from that perspective.  We may not be able to imagine that the “problem” person could have a legitimate concern or that the “problem” person could ever make a valuable contribution to the group.  When this happens, we need to remind ourselves that we all behave in different ways for many reasons. Invariably, problematic behaviors occur when we are struggling to cope with stress, change, fear or insecurity.  Problem behavior does not make an individual a “bad” person, but rather makes them someone who might need some help and understanding. Often people are completely unaware of how others perceive them or how their behavior is impacting their ability to get their needs and interests met.  So what do you do?       

First and foremost, breathe.  It’s going to be OK.  Here are two proven approaches for helping people to get back on track and make positive contributions to meetings:

                        1.  Prevention 

                        2.  Intervention

Preventions are facilitative techniques used before a meeting to set expectations and to prevent the meeting from getting off track with respect to either process or content. Some of these techniques include learning from individuals in advance of a meeting what their concerns are and coaching them how to raise them in a productive way; being clear about the purpose of the meeting, desired outcomes and how decisions will be made; and setting ground rules and getting commitment from participants to adhere to them.

Interventions are facilitative techniques used during a meeting to help people get back on track and make a positive contribution.  These techniques can help to address unhelpful behaviors in the moment, de-escalate conflict and shift people from unproductive discussions to problem solving.  They include, active listening, summarizing and most importantly, reframing: the art of identifying issues without blame, attacks, or pushing “buttons.”

 TMG’s Training Institute helps people build the skills they need to run better meetings and to effectively manage that “one in every crowd”. Consider registering for our “We’ve Got to Start Meeting Like This” workshop being held on April 14 & 15, 2015 at the TMG offices in Brookline.  For more information or to register, email info@themediationgroup.org, visit our web page www.themediationgroup.org/training or call 617-277-9232.