In the Star Wars movie’s famous bar scene you knew, by their appearance, what zany character was sitting beside you. Each character had a distinctive look. Yet in business meetings you may have no idea about the group of characters with whom you’re meeting.
That’s because their normal outward appearances belie often troublesome behavior. Want to learn more about the crazy cast of characters you’re likely to encounter in your business meetings? Whether or not you’re armed with a light saber, you’ll nevertheless be better equipped to do battle with these often-destructive forces who subvert business meetings with their bothersome behavior. Learn more about ten dysfunctional characters you’ll meet in business meetings.
The Monopolizer thinks he or she is the only one with wisdom on various subjects at the business meeting. The Monopolizer believes everyone else is there to hear him or her speak – and so they do – incessantly. They don’t appreciate business that meetings offer an opportunity to hear from many.
They prattle on and on, arrogantly acting as though their ideas or beliefs are inherently more important than those of other employees. Sadly other people shy away from contributing, intimidated by the Monopolizer’s strangle hold on the meeting.
When facilitators allow an employee to monopolize a business meeting, it sends the message that their rudeness is sanctioned. The facilitator, or even other meeting participants, should indicate an interest in hearing from others in the meeting, to remind the Monopolizer that others can speak as well as listen.
The Tangent Talker hijacks the topic of the group by taking discussions off on tangents – topics unrelated to the issue at hand. One minute you’re on topic and the next minute you’re in “left field” as your agenda topic has been taken on a tangent.
Your meeting leader’s ability to recognize the tangent and refocus is essential to a productive meeting. “Let’s remember to confine ourselves to the topic at hand” is a good way to get back on track. Alternately saying, “Let’s try to avoid tangents” also labels such behavior as contrary to the group’s aims. As well, you can “park” extraneous items in a “parking lot” list where they’re noted, if only to be addressed later.
Let’s face it, there’s a Devil’s Advocate in every crowd and in most business meetings, too. This person seems to relish taking the opposite tack. Whatever the argument being put forth, this person delights in taking an opposing view.
It’s sport for them, an exercise in opposition. The more unpopular the stance the more exciting they find the challenge. Often this employee begins by saying “just for the sake of argument – I believe the opposite is true.” While there is value in looking at issues from multiple points of view and to avoid group think, the Devil’s Advocate applies their technique to every issue, every argument and every conversation.
Hold on to your agenda and get comfortable. This could take a while. A good business meeting leader can praise this person’s ability to raise alternative issues. At the same time, the business meeting leader must indicate its inappropriateness, given time parameters or previously agreed upon issues.
The ultimate naysayer, the Cynic has a Masters degree in negativity. Adroit at using the phrase, “it won’t work,” they are skilled at deflating and defeating whatever motion is in motion. “Can’t be done.” “They’ll never buy it.” “We tried it once and it was a failure.” Their motto: just say no.
Challenge cynical employees to think like the Devil’s Advocate; suppose for a minute that the idea or project could work. Use a common conflict resolution tool and ask the Cynic to embrace the other side’s point of view as if it were their own, and argue that side’s position.
Known for their paralysis by analysis, Fence Sitters are unable to make decisions. Despite being in a deliberative body, they are conflicted by multiple arguments, and can’t “pull the trigger” when it’s time to make a decision in a business meeting.
They provide fodder for the Devil’s Advocate, the Cynic, and other characters with their ambivalence. Whether they are afraid of being wrong, or of disagreeing with someone else, or just going on record, they are a meeting monster for their inability to move the action forward.
Try to cajole the Fence Sitter into action. Remind them that they have a vote and were invited to use it. Ask them their opinions on matters to draw them out and get them on record.
Pandora’s Box Opener
These meeting monsters just have to tackle issues that are emotional, touchy or are “hot buttons” for others in the business meeting. In every business meeting there are topics that are sure to strike a nerve, to provoke an emotional reaction or enter the group into a quagmire.
The Pandora’s Box Openers lead the entire meeting into areas that provoke frustration, animosities, and often resentment too. Once this box is opened, it’s hard to get the issues back into the box. Discussions of salaries, promotions or personal styles often stir up issues that hijack meetings. Even worse, some culprits reopen issues from earlier in the business meeting that have already been resolved.
The best cure: a firm “let’s not go there” from the meeting’s facilitator. Other phrases like “let’s cross that bridge when we get there” or “that’s a hornets nest we don’t need to disturb” labels certain subjects out of bounds for the business meeting
There’s likely a sycophant in many business meetings. This employee is obsequious, bending over backwards to ingratiate himself or herself to the boss, the meeting leader or another power broker. They’re so busy currying favor with others, they subvert whatever true feelings they have about issues.
This employee is seen by other employees to be in the pocket of the person to whom they’re cow-towing. Ultimately they are seen for who they are and become predictable and not trusted.
Try to elicit their ideas and preferences before asking others as a way of drawing them out.
As children these people were bullies. Some still haven’t grown up. The Attacker deftly mixes negativity with personal attacks, challenging others’ ideas with vigor. Without regard to hurting others’ feelings, the Attacker uses a confrontational style to object to others’ ideas and go against the flow. Sadly, sometimes they don’t even realize they’re attacking.
A good facilitator can refocus the Attacker to be positive, to remove the sting from their words and avoid an adversarial approach. All meeting participants are entitled to stop the meeting when attacked personally. Ad hominem attacks are attacks against one’s person. People can criticize your actions or beliefs, but you don’t have to tolerate attacks against who you are as a person.
Don’t let the Joker’s good nature fool you, Jokers can be meeting monsters. Their constant joking has the effect of diminishing others’ serious ideas or suggestions. Their infusion of humor can belittle others’ motions and makes it difficult for some to be taken seriously.
There is a time and place for joking. While we all like a good laugh, constant joking disrupts a meeting and distracts attention from where it should be.
A business meeting leader can designate several minutes at the start or middle of a business meeting specifically for humor. When it crops up elsewhere and is deemed disruptive, the leader can remind people that the time for humor is passed or forthcoming, so as to control it.
Yep, these meeting monsters are actually cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and laptop computers. Each distracts their owner and others, too, as they intrude upon participants’ attention spans during business meetings.
A good meeting leader will create ground rules or normsfor business meetings, including turning off these gadgets at their outset. It’s hard to compete with human distractions, let alone electronic ones as well.
As you can see, business meetings are full of characters. Study participant behavior in meetings, including your own behavior, to better understand your style of interaction. The character of your business meetings will surely be affected by the characters in your meeting. May the force be with you.
From Craig Harrison