When someone interrupts or challenges you in a meeting, it’s important to know how to respond…

Good facilitators anticipates the obvious snafus that almost every meeting is bound to become victim to.
# The late start
# Late participant arrival
# Interruptive/disruptive participants
# Dysfunctional behaviours on the part of some participants
# Equipment and technology challenges
# Meeting /Venue limitations
and the list goes on…

It helps to get familiar with the venue ahead of time to make sure everything is functioning and the facilities are adequate. Where possible, it is also helps to learn what you can about the participants, the politics, the hierarchy, known ‘Hijackers’ or ‘troublemakers,’ the ‘coaches’ or participants who can guide and advise you on the finer nuances of the participants, subtle motivations, and hidden agendas, etc.

No meeting is quite compete without it’s share of self-opinionated individuals, interrupters, dysfunctional types and just plain angry, frustrated, impatient participants.
So how do you deal with this?
If you have ensured that your preparation has gone well and that all the extraneous items like the Venue, Technology requirements, Refreshments, Room ventilation and comfortable atmosphere controls, etc. are in place – you have already removed a lot of the common causes of frustration and annoyance.

Make sure that you introduce yourself or have someone do the honours. It is key that your credentials are adequately explained so as to underscore why you are uniquely qualified to lead or facilitate this meeting. (Your background, professional accomplishments, experience, skill set, qualification, success stories). This again, helps to add some gravitas to your role and the reason you were elected to play it – always a good deterrent to any wannabe’ meeting hijackers!
Make sure you brainstorm with the participants for the code of conduct you will all live by for the duration of the meeting. Post the chart with the code on the wall in plain sight so the team can point out when the code is not being honoured.

When faced with a challenging individual who is sidetracking the meeting consider the following steps:
# Remain calm and avoid taking the interruption personally.
# Maintain a measured tone of voice and reflect the question or statement back to the individual to demonstrate you are listening and not just shutting the individual out.
# If the position or question is valid and you do indeed have an answer, this would be a good time to express it. If you do not have an answer, you may want to relay the question or objection to another participant whom you feel may be in a position to respond better.
# I have sometimes reflected the question/objection back to the individual making it, and have been pleasantly surprised at the number of times I have heard a truly mature workable response or solution statement, coming back from the very individual who raised the objection in the first place.
# Make the point that everyone has a right to an opinion and that while the forum may not have the luxury to process every opinion that is raised, the intent is to allow everyone a fair hearing to express their opinion to the team.
# There will be times when you may not have the answer and do not feel it prudent to reflect or relay the objection – in such a situation be honest and suggest that you don’t have the answer but that you will get back – and please remember to positively get back with the answer even if it takes days or weeks to do so.
# Remember that every individual who appears interruptive and/or dysfunctional, may in fact be a committed and caring employee who is so frustrated that he/she does not mind going out on a limb and challenging the status quo, just to be heard.

Remember too, that in your role as a facilitator you need to take everything that is thrown at you as part of the issue you are being trusted to address and resolve – therefore you should not take anything personally…
It isn’t!

Happy facilitating!

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