Some people thrive in meetings. They love the discussion, the decision making, and even the difference of opinion. Others would rather go to the dentist than invest another minute in frustrating conversations. It seems that on top of dealing with long agendas, workers are sick of putting up with disruptive and non-productive behaviours and are choosing to opt out of non-essential meetings.

Ultimately, despite the strongest agenda and the best intent, the success of meetings is reliant upon the people that participate. There is no question that disruptive behaviours and bad habits are destructive, but sometimes employees merely have low self-awareness and they have never been pulled up. On occasion, these derailers may also just be the result of a bad day or external factors.

You may be reading this picturing the person that derails your meetings - but is it possible that you are also guilty of displaying meeting behaviours that grind the gears of your co-workers? The good news is disruptive meeting behaviours do not usually come with ill intent, so it is worth investing the time to overcome these barriers.

How to overcome 4 common disruptive meeting behaviours

When a poor meeting behaviour is repeatedly demonstrated, it is time to address the factors that are derailing the meetings and making them a chore for participants. The following outlines 4 of the most common negative meeting behaviours with some tips to overcome them with confidence.

Issue 1: The employee who likes the sound of their own voice

Have you ever been to a meeting where one of the participants does not stop talking? Truthfully, I think we have all experienced meetings where someone rambles on and holds the floor. If you are scratching your head thinking who this might be, perhaps it is you!

The difficulty is that sometimes this comes from a participant in a more senior role, or the likable extrovert of the group who doesn’t enjoy silence and can think quickly on their feet. One of the most common scenarios is a participant who is particularly passionate about the topic, or someone who perceives themselves to be a unique subject matter expert (SME).

Suggestions to encourage balanced participation:

  • Frame up the meeting at the beginning with the understanding that each participant will have an opportunity to speak.
  • Consider providing context around the points that need more consideration prior to the meeting, to enable those ‘who can’t think on their feet’ an opportunity to prepare.
  • Call out negative behaviours early and often. For example: “Sam, thank you for your further input on this agenda item. I feel like the group has a solid understanding of your preference so I am going to ask that now support me in allowing others to contribute their perspectives”.
  • Take the feedback offline and provide balanced feedback to the employee that demonstrate how this behaviour is impacting their brand.

Issue 2 – Getting ‘stuck in the weeds’

A common meeting scenario is when a particular topic or issue sparks the interest of someone in the group and they fail to consider if it is the right level of conversation for the meeting. This person can become quite animated and will lead the rest of the group down a rabbit hole where solutions are discussed and every detail is aired.

Suggestions to keep the conversation on track when a participant wants to go too deep in the detail:

  • Quickly acknowledge the interest the participant(s) have to deep dive on the topic and respectfully ask that the discussion is taken offline.
  • Start every agenda item with a clear vision for the outcome. For example: “In today’s meeting, the intent is to agree on the project participants. We will not be getting into the project details in this forum. These will be discussed in the project team meeting.”.
  • Allow a space in the minutes or use a virtual whiteboard to capture items that require further discussion.
  • Always acknowledge the appetite of the person or group to deep dive and explain when and where this will be provided.

Issue 3 – Participants that multi-task

In today’s business world we are all busy and there is endless technology to help us to be ‘smarter’ at juggling our workloads. Multi-tasking is certainly a skill worth pursuing, but if participants become too absorbed in their devices, the quality of conversation is compromised for the team.

To minimise the risk of device distraction:

  • As a team, create some ‘agreements’ about the use of devices in meetings. For example, an agreement might be that laptops can be used for minute takings and reference notes, but phones will be turned upside down.
  • Agree on the ‘phone etiquette’ for that particular group. For example, it may not be reasonable for senior leaders to turn off their phones, but perhaps they could leave the room immediately when answering a call.
  • Open the topic for discussion. How does the group feel? What are the advantages and disadvantages in that particular dynamic? Tabling the issues builds transparency and trust.
  • Ask the team at the beginning of each meeting to advise if they are expecting an urgent call.

Issue 4 – The inability to let go of an issue

Some people will not let go of an issue even if it was on an agenda three meetings ago. They will bring the same issue up and more than likely repeat old points. This becomes frustrating for other participants who feel that the issue is already dealt with.

Suggestions to help participants to ‘let go’ of an issue:

  • Acknowledge the participant’s concern, then offer to take it offline and refocus the meeting.
  • Offer the participant an alternative time when there will be the opportunity to discuss their concerns in more detail.
  • Anticipate the issue prior to the meeting and privately discuss with the participant that there won’t be the time in the meeting to ‘re hash’ the issue.
  • Provide an allocated time slot capped to 5-10 minutes for participants re share concerns.

Using the derailing behaviour as a development opportunity

Feedback provided with the right intent and delivery is a gift, however this should always be done privately. It is important to approach the feedback with an inquisitive mind and a belief that the employee did not have the wrong intent. Workers are usually surprised and disappointed that their passion and involvement has resulted in a negative outcome.

In many cases, a spoonful of self-awareness is all that is required to overcome an unhelpful meeting behaviour but sometimes a more formal development plan may need to occur. Remember to approach each conversation with an open mind as it is common for other stresses in the employee’s world to be presenting in the workplace. Turning around derailing meeting behaviours is beneficial for the employee but is also a significant win for the leader.

Further information

Ai Group also offers a range of extensive training courses to support leaders on their development journey. Ai Group has an extensive Optimising and Managing Performance resource toolkit to support members in all facets of performance management including providing feedback. For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

Join Ai Group today!

Take advantage of more than 150 years of experience actively solving Members’ workplace issues and representing their interests at the highest levels of national and state government. Being a Member of Ai Group makes good business sense. 

Call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.