A lot can be gained by approaching the meeting as a process. In a previous blog we showed how that works. In another blog we went into more detail about how you can save a lot of time and energy with status meetings. This leads to a better focus and employees enjoying their work. This doesn’t mean that the moment you meet is less important, however. On the contrary: that’s where trust – the foundation for good collaboration – is built that makes it possible to overcome obstacles, make difficult decisions and keep each other focused.
In general, the success of a meeting can be measured by the speed in which the speakers follow each other up. Scientific research conducted by Lise Oortmerssen shows that long monologues point to a lack of trust, which obstructs a potent exchange of ideas and standpoints. This does happen in a situation in which speakers keep it short and participants feel free to interrupt each other. But how do you facilitate that? In practice, we often have to deal with difficult types that negatively impact the dialogue. For that reason it’s useful to think about who are sitting at the table and in what way they can be difficult. I’m usually not one for thinking in boxes, but in this case it’s useful for explaining what you can do to improve the dynamic. We’ve listed five difficult types.
1. The latecomer
Everyone’s late every now and then. Sometimes there’s simply nothing you can do. The latecomer, however, is chronically late. That’s frustrating, because a delay of a mere 10 minutes in a meeting with 6 people means you already lose 1 hour of collective work time. That’s why it’s important to have the latecomer come in on time, or to not have him delay the meeting, at the very least.
It may be that the latecomer is late due to a lack of interest. Quite possibly, it might even be unnecessary for him or her to be present anyway. You can prevent this by assigning participants a clearly defined role and by creating ownership. Ask participants in advance to share their contributions and give everyone the opportunity to give feedback and ask questions ahead of time. If it turns out that no active contribution is expected of someone, it’s better to not invite this person.
Practically speaking, it’s important not to enable the latecomer. This means just starting on time and not “bringing him up to speed” upon arrival. Additionally, it’s useful to call the latecomer out on his or her behaviour after the meeting.
2. The critic
For every solution, the critic has a new problem. The words “yes, but” are their favourite words. Such behaviour doesn’t particularly improve the atmosphere in a room and might cause others to disengage. It can be very frustrating to have a critic take part in your meeting. But whatever you do, don’t take the criticism personally. This will only make it more difficult to maintain a substantive and constructive dialogue.
Though the critic may be difficult, that doesn’t mean that you should try to silence him. The movie 12 Angry Men beautifully portrays the utility of dissent. In the first round of votes in a court case, eleven out of the twelve jury members find the defendant guilty. An elaborate debate subsequently ensues, because the verdict needs to be unanimous. The debate eventually leads to the jury finding the defendant not-guilty. Eleven people thus are swayed.
It’s important to always carefully take dissenting points of view into consideration. The critic wants to be heard, and also makes this clear. You may ask the critic to substantiate his criticism, but, in any case, harness the power of the group by asking other participants what they think as well. That way you prevent a discussion between you and the critic.
If the critic is really out of line, dare to draw a clear line in the sand. After all, the more space you grant, the more space the critic will take. Try to find out why the critic is being obstructive in a personal conversation. Emphasise what it does to you and others, and ask him or her to in the future offer solutions alongside the criticism.
3. The rambler
Once the rambler starts talking, it’s hard to silence him. He’s long-winded and likes talking more than he does listening.
Try to gage why the rambler is so long-winded. It may be that someone just likes the sound of their own voice. In that case it’s important to frequently interrupt the rambler. Even more so if others get less space to talk because of it. This is part of the chairperson’s role. For example, you can ask the rambler to start with the conclusion. This often makes the rest of the story unnecessary.
It may also be the case that long monologues are the result of a lack of trust. After all, growing trust often means that participants speak more frequently and shortly. If a lack of trust indeed exists, then that is an issue that needs to have top priority. The good news is that trust and conversation patterns mutually influence each other. You can build trust by facilitating the right interaction. So even if you have the suspicion that there’s a lack of trust, it’s wise to deal with the rambler.
4. The interrupter
The interrupter can have various motives. Sometimes all the interrupter wants is to make a point. Sometimes the interrupter is impatient and wants to move on to the next point on the agenda. But it may also be the case that the interrupter wants to influence the mood by uttering a consenting “yes” or a disapproving “no.”
Interruptions can be hindering and cause delays, but they also have function. For example, what about the interrupter interrupting the rambler? If the participants display self-correcting behaviour, then that eases the chairperson’s role. In that case you can oftentimes let interruptions go their way. Especially if enough mutual trust and respect exists. But be willing to intervene if the interruptions aren’t functional or if people are visibly bothered.
5. The quiet one
The quiet one likes to listen more than he speaks. In some cases this may be due to a lack of preparation, but usually it’s because of an introverted personality.
At first, you may be inclined to ignore the quiet one, but in doing so you risk valuable input being lost. Therefore, always explicitly ask the quiet one what he or she is thinking. If you think that the quiet one is uncomfortable with this, it can help to contact him or her in advance to say that you’re looking forward to their input. You can also support the quiet one after the meeting by asking if there’s anything you can do in the future to help them be more pro-active. Once the quiet one starts talking, shield them from interrupters and ramblers.
Realise that the chairperson has an extremely important role. He or she can foster interaction by interrupting long monologues and asking questions to the people that are a bit less vocal. That’s the way to make a meeting potent and build mutual trust.