How to handle disruptions in meetings
If you don't have much experience with it, dealing with disruptions and disruptive behavior in a meeting can be quite a headache. There are many different types of disruptions that you might encounter and there are different strategies for handling each one. This article is designed as a step-by-step guide to help you in most situations.
Step 1: Set a standard of professionalism. Your management style may influence the incidence of meeting disruptions more than any other factor. If you are known for your professional, no-nonsense, manner, people will not be inclined to disrupt your meeting. However, if you buddy up to your employees and don't run a "tight ship", your employees will feel comfortable disrupting a meeting and even giving you a hard time while you are trying to present. As you have probably already discovered, it is a good idea to toe the line while in a management position.
Step 2: Make rules. There should be rules of conduct when participating in a business meeting. Most of these rules are implicit from the business setting but you might have to remind employees of the basics. Some obvious rules are that cell phones should be turned off while in a meeting, that a speaker should wait to be recognized before proceeding with comments, and that insulting or threatening language is not allowed. If you do have somebody's cell phone ring during a meeting that will probably serve as a reminder for everybody to turn their phones off.
Step 3: Maintain control. Often disruptions are not so much a case of bad behavior on the employee's part but bad management on the meeting leader's part. Once you start letting people make comments at will, you can end up with bedlam. The first time someone pipes up without being recognize, address the behavior. You should not call out the person but tell the group, "Please hold your comments until I am finished" or "Please raise your hand if you have a comment". Another problem that can get out of hand is one person wanting to dominate the meeting. If you have one person that keeps making comments and keeps raising his or her hand, you should address it before it becomes a problem. Saying something like, "I'd like to hear your opinions on this, could we schedule a time to talk after the meeting".
Step 4: Stay on track. Allowing distractions and distracters to pull you off track is inefficient and frustrating. One way to help yourself stay on track is by making and handing out an outline of the meeting, another way is by having a PowerPoint presentation. By using notes or PowerPoints, you can quickly right yourself if you do happen to wander off track. Simply look down at your notes or up at the screen and see what topic you want to address next. Stay in control of the meeting and try to deviate as little as possible from the agenda that you have established.
Tips and Warnings
If things to go awry and a meeting gets out of control, you should know what to do. You can dismiss distracters if they become a problem but that type of interaction might be just as distracting to your team as anything the distracter could say. If the meeting gets really out of control, adjourn the meeting and reschedule for a latter time, after meeting privately with the culprit or culprits. Remember to never criticize or lose your cool in public. Watch your tone of voice and wait until you are alone to handle the discipline issues.
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