I was facilitating a meeting effectiveness class and the discussion turned to talking about how hard it is to deal with difficult people when you are the meeting leader (and perhaps NOT the difficult person's boss). We discussed several varieties of difficult behavior. Here are a few with tips for how to facilitate through these situations:
Devil's Advocate: To be clear, a devil's advocate perspective is often very helpful and should be welcomed. But some people are ALWAYS playing the devil's advocate, and this can be disruptive and bring the group down.
- Assign unlikely people to take both sides of an idea - assign devil's advocates. And assign the chronic devil's advocate to be pro-idea. Very interesting!
- Thank the person, let him or her know you have heard their concern, and ask if there are OTHER reactions, positive or negative about the idea.
- Ask the devil's advocate for suggestions on how to mitigate concerns and make the idea work more effectively.
Self-absorbed: Someone who does not like that his or her idea has not been accepted or rejoiced by the group. These are the people who toss out an idea (good), listen while others respond to the idea (good), then keep sharing the idea again and again if the idea is not embraced and accepted (not so good).
- Acknowledge that the person obviously feels very strongly about the idea. State that right now, there does not seem to be interest in moving forward with the idea but offer him or her the chance to present the idea more fully at future meeting where she should offer the pros and cons, seek feedback from diverse sources and report on that, and share more background information.
- Have the courage to say that at this time, the majority of team members do not think that the idea should be considered.
- Write the idea on a flip chart or white board so that it is clear that you heard him or her. Then move on.
When the team can't reach agreement: Sometimes there are two clear and opposing ideas and sometimes there are many ideas. But what if the team can't agree?
- Before asking for ideas, let the team know what will happen in the event they don't come to agreement. Who will decide?
- Set a time limit for deliberations - this may not be appropriate for large or important decisions.
- Acknowledge stakeholders or experts whose opinions count more (have the courage to be open about this) and let their voice weigh more heavily in the decision making.
- If appropriate for the decision, use voting, polling, force-field analysis/pros-cons, or other means to reach and agreement. Not all decisions should be left to a majority vote, however.
Not on same page philosophically: People in the meeting obviously have different agendas, different needs, and different measures of success.
- Ask for intent, versus positions.
- Clarify and get needs and beliefs out on the table. If the team understands what's driving each response, they can better come to a win-win outcome.
- Clarify points of agreement and then determine how differences will be resolved and who gets to decide.