Running a good meeting is not simply about controlling the tempo and topic of the meeting, but also about managing the different personalities in attendance.
In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was an article covering this topic entitled Meet the Meeting Killers, in which they describe four types of co-workers who frequently disrupt meetings: the Jokester, the Dominator, the Naysayer and the Rambler.
For each, the post offers a behavioral description and suggestions on how to neutralize or convert them into supporters.
However I think they missed a couple others which I've often encountered: the Lurker, who's relatively harmless, and the Passive-Aggressive Attacker, who's dangerous and incredibly annoying. So how do you deal with these and why bother?
The Lurker can be difficult to spot as they are adept at camouflaging themselves.
Like a lion, they disappear into the tall grass while waiting to pounce on their prey — except that Lurkers never pounce on anything, except perhaps a bio-break.
The other reason they're difficult to spot is that they never speak up, and rarely contribute. So why care?
Well, they are part of your team, and they are presumably a valued member and contributor to your organization (or they wouldn't be there). So you need them to contribute to your meetings because if you can get them to speak up they often have great things to contribute. Still waters run deep, as the cliché goes.
What you don't want to do is surprise a Lurker in the meeting. So sound them out ahead of time, solicit their ideas or their position and stance, and then let them know that you will call on them to voice those ideas in the meeting. This lets them organize their thoughts and get ready
The Passive-Aggressive Attacker!
The Passive-Aggressive Attacker is harder to deal with. They're like a soldier hunkered down in a bunker, firing off a bazooka round every once in awhile. But here are a few things:
- Do not nag, beg, cajole, wheedle, or plead. Make your statement, rebut their argument, and then stop talking. Move on to the next topic. Remember: they understand — they're just ignoring you.
- Don't get angry and don't take their behavior personally. They treat everyone the same way.
- Keep records. If you discussed something, and a plan of action was agreed to, send everyone involved a transcript of the meeting, including who is to do what.
Getting a truly difficult passive-aggressive person engaged is difficult and rarely achievable. The best you can usually hope for is to neutralize them and minimize the disruptions they cause.