If you’re like most people, your weeks are full of workplace meetings. And if you’re like most of us, there are certain coworkers who regularly make those meetings far more painful than they have to be.
Here are the five worst types of people to have in your meetings – and what you can do to neutralize each of them.
1. The Monopolizer. The Monopolizer acts as if he’s in a meeting of one. He has lengthy comments about every topic that comes up, won’t let anything be tabled until you’ve thoroughly discussed it from all angles, derails the agenda with unrelated items, and makes the group sit through long debates of issues that ultimately don’t need to be resolved at this particular meeting.
What to do: Address it head-on, with phrases like these:
- “Let’s table that for now and move on with our agenda.”
- “I’m just looking for quick input at this stage, but might come back to you on this down the road.”
- “I’d love to hear from others now.”
- “I need to cut you off so that we have time to get to other topics.”
2. The Silent Shadow. The opposite of the Monopolizer, the Silent Shadow contributes nothing. Whether it’s a brainstorming meeting or a project planning meeting, she sits silently while others do the work.
What to do: You might be tempted to just ignore her, but a better bet is to try to draw her out in the moment (“Jane, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this” or “Jane, you have great experience in XYZ; what do you think about this?”). Or, depending on your role and hers, you might talk to her outside the meeting and say something like, “I’ve noticed you don’t speak up much in our weekly meetings; is there anything I can do to help you contribute?”
3. The Missing-in-Action. This is the guy who’s constantly reading his email, checking his phone, or texting while other people are talking. His actions scream, “I don’t want to be here and I’m not paying attention.”
What to do: This will depend on the dynamics and hierarchy in your office. For instance, if you’re the offender’s boss, it would entirely be reasonable to address it in the moment (“Carl, I’d love to have your full attention”) or outside of the meeting. For a peer, you might go with “Carl, I’d love your input on this – would another time be better for you?” And for someone above you in the hierarchy, there’s not much you can do.
(Of course, cut people some slack. The occasional peek at email is probably no big deal; it’s patterns that we’re talking about here.)
4. The Unprepared. You ask everyone to do some reading in advance of the meeting and come prepared with their input, but this person never does it. As a result, she derails the meeting by asking people to fill in the background for her, asking questions everyone else already knows the answers to, and generally being unhelpful when called on for comment.
What to do: If this behavior is a pattern, talk to her outside the meeting. Say something like, “Lisa, I’ve noticed you haven’t had time to do the meeting prep for our last few meetings. I send it because I don’t want to spend people’s time covering that stuff once we’re all together. Would it help if I got it to you earlier, or is there anything else I can do to ensure you have time to read it?” And of course, if you’re this person’s manager, you can be more directive than that – as in, “I’d like you to come to meetings with the pre-readings already reviewed.”
5. The Naysayer. The Naysayer’s favorite refrain is “it’ll never work” or “they’ll never let us do it” – taking the wind out of new ideas and suggestions with astonishing regularity. While this type often thinks that they’re serving a valuable role by playing devil’s advocate, denigrating suggestions, and poking holes in plans, but when it happens at every meeting, their colleagues rarely see it that way.
What to do: If you’re a Naysayer’s manager, it’s worth giving some feedback on this in private – pointing out that the behavior is squelching new suggestions and enthusiasm and asking the Naysayer to rein it in. If you’re a Naysayer’s peer, you might try language like:
- “Let’s focus on how this might work for a moment, before we get into potential drawbacks.”
- “What suggestions do you have for working around that?”
- “Let’s work from the assumption that we can get approval, since we’ve had similar projects approved in the past.”