Dear Meeting Guru,

"What is an effective, yet sensitive way to deal with those who continually cary on side converstaions that disrupt the meeting for everyone?"


Blessed Meeter,

A participant who is continuously chatting with their neighbor can be extremely disruptive to the entire group. You need to step in and deal with this as soon as possible, otherwise your entire meeting can disintegrate. The quickest and most effective way to deal with someone who is involved in a side conversation is to openly acknowledge their behavior. Ask if they have anything to share with the group. If they donít, ask them to save their discussion to the end of the meeting. If they do, tell them that you appreciate their comments, but next time, could they wait until the previous person has finished speaking before speaking. Most people only need to be challenged once, and will be sufficiently embarrassed to change their behavior.

If you would prefer to avoid any sort of conflict, you can drop a subtle hint. If someone is being particularly disruptive, ask them a direct question. This should pull their focus back to the matter at hand. Try something like, "John, whatís your opinion of Bettyís last point?" People hate being caught out without an appropriate comment so this may scare them into listening next time!

If neither of these tips work, you may have to speak with the offender outside the meeting. Pull them aside and explain that youíre finding their whispering distracting. Ask if thereís any way they could keep their conversations for outside of the meeting room.

I hope you have some success with one of these strategies. Itís important that you donít let one personís behavior affect the success of the entire meeting. The wise philosopher Confucius once said, "Clever words, a pretentious face and too-perfect courtesy: Tso Ch'iu Ming was ashamed of them. I am also ashamed of them. Concealing one's resentments and acting friendly to people: Tso Ch'iu Ming was ashamed to act this way and so am I." In other words, while it can be difficult to confront a colleague, donít be afraid to address the problem openly. It will improve your overall working environment if you do.

Until next time… may good meeting karma always be with you.



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