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  • James Walton

The Three Characters Who Derail Your Meeting ... and How to Respond

You've determined to use meetings as a chance to make in impact, you've invited the right people, you've communicated the agenda, you've got your headspace right, and you've started on time.


Now what? How do you facilitate the meeting such that robust dialogue and effective decisions result?

For starters, be aware of three types of people that can derail your meeting once it begins.


The Squirrel: well-meaning but ill-prepared, often tries to redirect the conversation towards ends different than the stated purpose of the meeting.


The Shark: well-meaning but ineffective, often uses ineffective communication tactics to dominate the conversation, advance their agenda or establish dominance.


The Sloth: well-meaning but ill-equipped to make a contribution, often spends the whole meeting without offering anything of substance.


As the meeting facilitator, it's your job to help bring out the best of the wisdom, experience and perspective gathered around the table. Being aware of how others might derail the effectiveness of your meeting and developing targeted strategies to mitigate that is beneficial.


Here's how you might work with the squirrel, the shark and the sloth to facilitate a more effective meeting.


Response to the Squirrel: "I hear that this issue is really important to you, and it's important to us as well. However, we're here to discuss ________________, so let's move that idea to the parking lot, and we'll either revisit it at the end of today's discussion, or make it part of our next meeting."


Why it Works: Here, you're acknowledging their concern while protecting your own. The "parking lot" is the agreed upon spot to put ideas that are important, but inappropriate to discuss immediately. You can build trust by being vigilant to revisit issues put in the parking lot on a regular basis so your team has confidence you're not just blowing them off.


Response to the Shark: If a team member uses verbal or nonverbal communication to create an unsafe space, take them aside immediately after the meeting and say something like: "Part of what makes this team effective is our commitment to a shared set of values. When you roll your eyes at your colleague's suggestion and talk over those who are trying to clarify your thinking, you violate those shared values and break trust. Will you work on demonstrating more respect in our next meeting?"


Why it Works: Assuming you don't have a bad actor on your hands who is intent on doing harm, this kind of professional feedback will raise their behavior from the level of the subconscious to the conscious, and alert them to the fact that you're aware of it and won't allow it to persist. If you do nothing, this behavior usually increases in both frequency and intensity.


Response to the Sloth: If you notice a team member consistently doesn't contribute in meetings, especially if that behavior is combined with being distracted by a device, make a point to ask during a meeting: "We haven't heard much from you today, Eloise, what's your perspective on this issue at hand?"


Why it Works: After the meeting, or in your next 1:1, say something like: "Eloise, you're a valuable member of this team and when you don't offer input during our discussions, the team misses out. At our next meeting, can I expect you to offer two complete sentences of input related to what we're discussing? If you're uncomfortable speaking up on your own, I can ask you."


Meetings are Where Culture Gets Made

Your meetings are a key way the culture of your organization gets expressed and stress-tested. Your ability to facilitate an effective meeting communicates what you value, how you expect your team to interact, and pushes the organization towards the most important decision.


If your meetings could be improved, the Trellis Group can provide actionable insight to your organization. We can help turn your meetings from ineffective and draining to a catalytic force for growth in your company. Reach out.


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