Dear Meeting Guru,

What techniques can be employed to deal with the cynical employee who always charges to challenge others during meetings. This person also tends to drift in and out mentally of meetings but never misses a moment to question or challenge the information being presented. Thanks.

Mason Myers, Woodland Heathcare

Blessed Meeter,

Below, I've listed a few techniques for dealing with dysfunctional behaviors in the meeting room. I hope these suggestions will help you put a stop to this negative behavior and get the most from your group each and every time you meet.

Situation 1: Meeting Participant Drifts Off-Topic
The leader should intervene and explain that the discussion is drifting away from the matter at hand. Try saying something like "Yes. What you're saying is interesting, but we must first address the agenda item – which is to brainstorm alternative solutions to this problem."

Situation 2: Muddled and Confused Participants
The leader must be supportive, coaxing the speaker to re-state the point more explicitly. For example, "My understanding is that you think we should… Am I correct?"

Situation 3: The Broken Record Syndrome
The leader must intervene to save the meeting's valuable time. Nevertheless, this should be done in a sensitive and supportive way. For example, "I think we all relate to your point on that issue, but another perspective would be useful. Should we hear the opinion of someone else?"

Situation 4: A Participant Makes a Habit of Providing Vague or Unclear Suggestions
The leader must clarify the suggestions before allowing the discussion to proceed. For example, "Could you be a little more specific? What are your plans for this idea and when do you see them unfolding?"

Situation 5: A Participant Interrupts Other Participants While They're Speaking
This may be acceptable if the speaker is being corrected on a factual error. Similarly, a humorous interjection may be useful in keeping the discussion on friendly, cooperative terms. If not, then the leader must keep control of who speaks and when. For example, "Could we have your point of view after Kathy has finished speaking? She may answer it for you if she's allowed to continue…"

Situation 6: A Participant Persistently Chatting to His Neighbor
The leader needs to draw attention to the matter at hand and encourage everyone to pay attention. A direct question can be effective in keeping people listening actively. For example, "Could I ask your thoughts on Joan's last point, Brent?"

Situation 7: The Cynical Employee Challenging Other Participants' Ideas
It's good to play devil's advocate from time to time and to present reasons why an idea isn't a great one. This can help groups fully consider an idea from all angles and possibilities. However, when one individual challenges other participants' ideas meeting after meeting, this is dysfunctional behavior that will create negative emotions in the meeting room. The best way to correct this behavior? The next time the cynic challenges a participant's idea, simply ask him to suggest a better idea. For example, "You're challenging this idea. Perhaps you could recommend something better?" Or change negativity into something positive by asking him what he thinks is good about the presented idea. For example, "Now that you've let us know what you don't like about the idea, tell us a what you do like about the concept."

If you don't feel comfortable confronting this individual in front of the group, talk to him in private. Let him know how the group feels about his meeting behavior and how this behavior affects the group. Make it clear that he's a valuable member of the team, but that he needs to work on being a more effective team member. Give him suggestions on how he can do this. After all, there's nothing more destructive than giving criticism without providing tips on how to overcome it.

I hope these tips will help you with the dysfunctional participant in your meetings. If you're frustrated by his behavior, you can guarantee that the rest of the group is too. Having a cynical individual in your meetings does nothing but create negative karma – don't allow this individual to control the entire group. If having difficulty getting up the courage to address this individual's behavior, remember what the wise philosopher Confucius once said, "To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle." In other words, if you're the leader of the group and you observe this type of dysfunctional behavior, it's your duty to put a stop to it – for the future productivity of your group and your meetings.

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



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