Chapter 6. Dealing with Meeting Disruptions
The Facilitator usually has the responsibility of dealing with disruptive or inappropriate behavior, since this is a meeting process issue rather than a meeting content issue. However, if there is no Facilitator, these duties fall to the Leader. In addressing problems during meetings, use a subtle approach initially. People respond to a meaningful glance in their direction or your approaching them to stand directly beside them. If this doesn't work, try some of the vocal interventions listed here.
Group members may be late sometime. If it's not a usual occurrence, don't disrupt the meeting to review what happened prior to their arrival, unless they are key figures in your meeting. Let the latecomer sit quietly without participating for a while to "catch up" with meeting content. The Facilitator should supply the latecomer with an agenda, plus any supplies handed out earlier. If the lateness is chronic, you could try humor by saying, "Sorry, we must have started early." You might also stop the meeting until the latecomer is seated.
Early leavers tend to drain the energy from a meeting. When people leave, others wonder why the meeting continues. When you review the agenda, point out the ending time and ask if anyone has a problem with that. Those with legitimate excuses will usually state them. Courtesy calls for early leavers to speak with you prior to the meeting to apprise you of their need to leave early. You can then work that into your general meeting introduction, so that other participants will be expecting that. If the early leaver will miss an important feature of your meeting which you can't speed up, you should make this clear. They may decide to stay!
If silent people are meeting dropouts ”reading a newspaper, yawning, rolling their eyes, almost reclining in their chairs ”you might consider their purpose in being at the meeting. They may be indifferent to the topic, think the meeting is a waste of time, be bored, or feel that they will have nothing to contribute. One way to get them participating is to stand close to them. Establish eye contact, call them by name and ask them a question. If they don't answer quickly, say, "I'll give you a moment to think" and call on someone else. One thing you should definitely do is ask them to put away their reading material.
On a break, ask them why they are not talking. Just showing them your attention may help them tell you the reason for their behavior, which could be pressing issues at work or preoccupation with other matters. Other participants will notice how you handle this.
If silent persons are simply shy, they may look uninvolved, but they are really tracking with you and the meeting content. You can establish eye contact, smile, and ask them an open question ”one that needs more than a yes-or-no answer. When they've finished, sincerely thank them to encourage further participation. If you split the class into subgroups, ask silent persons to summarize the discussion. You can also ask a question and have each person in your meeting group respond by sharing their opinions . Interact with them during a break to discover more about their perceptions on the meeting topic; if you can gain their trust, they may contribute more. Silents often process their thoughts deeply, so their responses may not be frequent, but they are nearly always worthwhile.