Dealing with Difficult People in Business Meetings
“44% of Business Meetings are not Productive”
Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in meetings for hours and getting nothing done!
You start off strong, talking about the issues. Then someone makes a suggestion, and the group is off on a tangent. Or someone complains. The energy shifts to problems, which halts any progress.
A good technique to avoid this is agreeing to limit the time on a discussion. When you hit that mark, then table the topic for another time or decide based on what you know now.
This only works if everyone agrees that discussions involve balancing speaking with listening. Here’s what to do with people who don’t have those skills.
1. Positive response: Try this first. Acknowledging people gives them a sense of being heard and validated.
- “That’s a good point. Does anyone else have this concern [feel this way]?”
- “Thanks for sharing that. Should we talk about it now or look into it further before discussing it at length?”
- “That’s a great idea. I’ll make a note to look into it.”
2. Redirection: This validates the person while gently shifting back to the topic.
- “Great point but it’s getting us off topic. Let’s hold that thought for the moment.”
- “Thanks for mentioning this. After the meeting, you and I should talk so we can address it more fully.”
- “I can see this is very important to you. Let’s connect later today to talk about it.”
3. No response: Use body language rather than saying something. Non-verbal cues help the person to stop and think about what was shared. They also allow us to slow the conversation, balancing the energy of someone who is dominating or controlling.
- Sit quietly. Look calmly and directly at the person for a few seconds after they finish speaking.
- Slightly lift your eyebrows while the person talks. Take long, slow and deep breaths.
- Clasp your hands in front of you. Look at the person in a way that says it’s not appropriate to continue.
4. Negative response: Use this when nothing else works. Be calm but firm and direct.
- “I can see this is very important to you. However, now isn’t the time to discuss it. How can we help you shift back so we can move forward?”
- “[name of person], we’ve tried to keep the conversation moving, but we keep coming back to this. Why is that happening?”
- “I thought we already discussed and resolved this.”
It’s not easy to help someone who struggles with boundaries. Remember: you can’t change them—only how you respond. Focus on being positive, calm and respectful. Modeling that can help create more productive meetings.
We sent a newsletter a few years ago that might also interest you - Are meetings clogging your workweek?