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By Liz Reyer

RISMEDIA, Sept. 20, 2008-(MCT)-Q. I work with a man who is disruptive in meetings. He talks incessantly about topics irrelevant to the agenda and it’s difficult to steer the discussion back on track. I worry when he attends a meeting during which crucial business must be accomplished. I’m not his boss, but I facilitate these meetings. Any suggestions?

A. Manage your colleague by setting clear expectations for meeting behavior and maintaining a relentless focus on your meeting’s agenda.

How are you reacting? Are you getting in your own way by anticipating the worst? If so, take a few deep breaths, relax and be ready to start with a clean slate.

Think about what might be driving him. It may be ego, insecurity or a drive for power. Or, he may be clueless about the effect of his behavior. If you can understand his underlying dynamics, you’ll be more likely to keep him from derailing your meetings.

Plan how you’d like your next meeting to go, visualizing your ideal meeting management style. Draw on your observations of others whose skills you admire and assess the gap between your current style and your ideal. Recognizing areas that you’d like to improve-for example, becoming more direct-can help you make the shift. Or, you may need to be more intentional and set some personal goals for running meetings.

For your next meeting, make your plan, prepare yourself, and execute.

– Design your agenda. Decide what needs to be accomplished, and share that with all participants. Send the agenda early enough to give people some “think time” before the meeting. Sometimes off-track rambling can be a cover for feeling unprepared.
– Check in with your boss, because it can be risky to take on a disruptor who is well connected in the organization. Get the boss on your side upfront.
– Prepare yourself. Address any anxiety by taking a few quiet moments to review your goals and visualize using your strategies to manage a successful meeting.
– Make a speech. Remind participants how valuable time is, while reviewing meeting goals and the decisions required. Promise, in a lighthearted way, that you’ll intervene to keep the agenda on track, and ask for everyone’s help.
– Take action to keep the meeting from getting out of hand. If the room is set up so that you can move around, stand near the talkative person; this often quiets people.
– Don’t be afraid to interrupt. You’ll have promised to do just that in your speech, so follow through. First direct your refocusing to the entire group, but if necessary, ask the disruptive individual to hold the off-agenda topic for a later time. You may have to be a broken record at first, but eventually new habits will form. If all else fails, return to your boss to escalate the situation.

When you’re the facilitator, the group is counting on you to take charge. With planning and follow-through, you’ll be able to manage disruptive colleagues and hold more-effective meetings.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at

© 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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