Strategies for Controlling a Meeting Nemesis

If a potential nemesis emerges in one of your meetings, don’t take it personally. The first step is to identify the type of nemesis you’re dealing with. Then you can take decisive action to make sure he or she doesn’t derail your presentation.

First we will define the three common types of meeting nemeses; then we’ll outline strategies for dealing with each.

#1: Monopolizers, Distracters, Attention Seekers, and Skeptics
They can compromise the effectiveness of your meeting by seizing control of discussions, leading the group away from the meeting’s original goal or objective, taking shots at you and your ideas, or spreading a mood of doubt, fear, or negativity.

• Interrupt frequently
• Ramble and repeat themselves
• Like to hear themselves talk

To deal with them:
• Don’t argue
• Don’t avoid confrontation
• Wait for them to come up for air, then interrupt them by name
• Once you’ve successfully interrupted the monopolizer, immediately ask someone else to comment on the topic

• Seek attention
• Bring up irrelevant topics that waste time

To deal with them:
• Remind them of the meeting purpose
• Ask specific questions to return focus to the main topic

Attention Seekers:
• Make stage-whispered, snide comments to challenge your authority
• Try to divert attention from the meeting leader and onto themselves

To deal with them:
• Ask them to share their comments with everyone. (Most will be so embarrassed that they will decline.)

• Criticize everything said during the meeting

To deal with them:
• Stay positive and calmly address their fears.

#2: Intimidators
They belittle, frighten, interrupt, and interrogate other meeting members, causing upset and internal political havoc, both inside and outside the meeting room. Meeting intimidators are bossy and rude and create an unpleasant work environment. They can make it uncomfortable for other participants to contribute. Meeting intimidators can impact attitude and productivity outside the meeting room, as well.

Techniques for Handling Meeting Intimidators
If you encounter a meeting intimidator, remain cool, calm, and collected and apply these
Ask questions. Try to get clarification on the intimidator’s ideas and point of view. This allows you to steer a conversation without making the intimidator feel awkward or offended.
Watch your tone. If your tone is bossy, authoritarian, or belligerent, it could inflame the intimidator further. Remember, voice intonation can sneak in and reveal your emotions in spite of your best efforts.
Seek common ground. When a meeting intimidator is impacting your meeting, try to stay positive. Look for points on which you both can agree. This will make it easier to address the areas in which your opinions differ.
Focus on the facts. Focus on data—dates, statistics, and facts—rather than getting into opinions and emotions about the issue.

Keeping Intimidators Out of Your Meetings
You can actually prevent meeting intimidators from emerging by establishing some basic ground rules for meetings:
• Try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
• Take a break every hour.
• Avoid labeling things “right” and “wrong.” Varying viewpoints are nothing more than different ways to look at the same issue.
• Be mindful that you are all working toward a common goal.
• Encourage feedback from others.
• Try to keep the mood light.
• Avoid finger pointing (literally or figuratively).

#3: Underminers
They create problems in meetings, usually deliberately but sometimes unintentionally. Meeting sabotage can occur when one of your supporters not only speaks out against your idea but does so using an objection you hadn’t heard before. Stay calm. You can address meeting sabotage by asking lots of questions so you understand the reasons for your colleague’s objection. Try to use your in-depth knowledge of the situation to provide facts and statistics that address your colleague’s concern.

Underminers use the following behaviors to detract from meetings:

Side conversations: It is distracting when two or more people are whispering/talking among themselves during a meeting.

To deal with them:
• Invite those engaged in the side conversation to share their ideas with the rest of the group.
• Stand directly behind the people who are talking.
• Invite one of the parties to respond to the issue currently being discussed.
• Look at the middle of the group engaged in the side conversation (don’t just single out the talker) and say something like, “There seems to be a lot of interest in this issue. Can we please have just one person speak at a time?”
• Say, “Pardon me, but I can’t hear what [name of contributing participant] is saying.”
• Avoid putting the participants on the spot. Saying something like, “Anna and Julie, please stop talking now,” can create hard feelings and undermine your effectiveness as a leader.
• Consider changing the process. Introduce a “speaking prop” (e.g., a beanbag, gavel, ball, or stuffed animal) to the group. Then tell the participants that only the person holding the item is allowed to speak.

Texting: Tapping on keyboards and providing divided attention can make texting annoying during a meeting.

To deal with them:
Text messaging is a quick, effective way of communicating, and it’s not going away. Rather than banning text messaging during meetings, why not embrace the technology?

• Consider using text messaging to remind participants of the meeting time and location and to let them know about what they should bring to the meeting or how they should prepare in advance.
• If a vote or opinion is required during a meeting, allow the participants to send their response via text message.
• Be open to the types of e-mail messages that come from BlackBerry and other portable communication devices. Because typing on these devices can be a challenge, messages are often short and abbreviated. Though the messages may lack a personal touch or some of the niceties you may expect, they allow for fast, efficient communication.

If texting becomes a problem or distraction during a meeting, you can:
• Shift the focus back to the meeting by calling on the person doing the texting to fill a key role in the meeting, such as timekeeper or recorder.
• Ask the person doing the texting for information or an opinion.

Latecomers: They derail meetings by creating an interruption when entering the room. Their absence may delay the meeting agenda, especially if you are counting on the latecomer to play an important role in the meeting.

To deal with them:
• Be a role model by always arriving punctually.
• Start exactly on time even if people have not yet arrived.
• Consider closing the meeting room doors at the start of the meeting to make latecomers aware of the fact that the meeting has begun and they are late.
• Send a reminder via e-mail or text message 30 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Include a friendly reminder stating that in the interest of staying on schedule, you won’t recap issues for latecomers.
• Schedule your meeting to start at an odd time—rather than 1:00, schedule the meeting for 1:10. People are more likely to arrive early so you can get started on time.
• If someone is habitually late to your meetings, consider talking with him or her in private in a nonconfrontational manner. Simply mention that you’ve noticed the person has been late for a few meetings and you wonder if the meeting times you have arranged are inconvenient. If the participant is an important player in the meeting, perhaps a schedule change is in order.

This material has been adapted from AMA’s seminar Leading Effective Meetings. Visit:

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