How to manage seven difficult personalities in a meeting ?

Grumpy, Happy, Blabby, Doc … These personality types (loosely based on Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs) can cause disagreements during a meeting, and – if you are not careful – may even take over control of the meeting. Xavier Cornette de Saint-Cyr, coach at Hexalto, has some very useful suggestions on how to deal with these party poopers.

Once you have more than 10 people in the same room, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep strong personalities under control. It can even jeopardize the whole meeting. The troublemaker wants to get noticed and will either ruin the atmosphere or drive a wedge between your team members. Or worse, turn everybody against you and sabotage the meeting. You can avoid this by keeping everything under control. Below we have listed seven personality types that can ruin your meeting, and the best way to neutralize them.

He never agrees with anything you say, constantly contradicting your statements. « That will never work ! », « That is badly developed. ». He will of course not take action himself or offer alternatives. His answer will be : « Ah no, YOU are the boss ! ». It is not easy to deal with Grumpy. He is conservative, afraid of changes and sometimes even aggressive. He will block every single collective decision.
Approach him one step at a time. 1/ Ask him up to three questions to understand why he reacts this way. Just be careful you don’t end up in a table-tennis competition without a winner. 2/ Give him a specific assignment that fits his profile. This will stimulate his involvement. 3/ Be direct : « This is not open for debate ! ». And give him a one-month deadline.

He wants everybody to know he’s an expert, he is a master of debating, a smooth talker. He interrupts others constantly and is a nit-picker who propagates « his » approach. His answers are filled with literary references. He oozes credibility and will question your competence in front of everybody. Avoid an open confrontation. Appease him and postpone his interventions as much as possible.  «  That is a very interesting idea; please make a note of it and we can talk about it at the end of the meeting. »  Chances are big that his remarks will no longer be relevant in the end. Another approach: you may offer him – with the approval of the group – to talk about one specific topic. He may calm down once he is in the spotlight.

He will make use of a sympathetic public to poke fun. People like him because he makes them laugh, even if it disturbs your meeting. You will need to shut him up immediately, or he may ruin the meeting.
Try the following double tactic. 1/ Smile when he tells his first joke and thank Charlie Chaplin for entertaining the group. This will show the others that you have a sense of humour. 2/ Get back to the subject of your meeting.

No matter when or where you schedule this meeting, this person is always late. Be firm and follow this golden rule : never repeat what was discussed prior to his arrival. Do not wait for him to start a meeting. When he finally arrives, you can use any of the following approaches. 1/ Silence  « We will wait until John has found a seat ». This will throw him off balance, and may even make him feel guilty. 2/ Irony can also make him feel uncertain. I once knew a manager who told the latecomer : « OK, that was an important message that you should not forget ». The latecomer started to worry and asked « what did you talk about ? ». 3/ Repeat the rules regarding punctuality and tell him « the meeting starts at 10am. Could you please make an effort and arrive on time ! » .

He is constantly talking to his neighbour. Don’t lose your temper and ask him to share his opinion with the group. « It seems you have something interesting to say, do tell us … » . You can also approach him during your presentation. Your physical presence will disturb him, and he will stop his annoying behaviour. Or you can let the others reprimand him with « shhh  » or with clear body-language. Both methods work wonderfully !

Inspector Gadget
He is addicted to high-tech toys, is constantly texting and using his smartphone and laptop… He doesn’t pay attention and is interrupting the meeting with ringtones and noisy key strokes. Outsmart him by writing the following on your whiteboard : « Do not forget to switch your laptop back on after the meeting » . Or give him a task every time his gadgets make a noise, for example making him write the minutes of the meeting. If all else fails, you can put him down by telling him that « this meeting is also urgent and important ! ». If you don’t, you risk losing all credibility.

He falls asleep, snores or has nightmares. Even when he is quiet, he is still interrupting the meeting. Wake him up and offer some good advice. « The day before a meeting you should get a good night’s rest » , or « From now on you should get a light meal for lunch ! » . You can also put him in his place. « We have to take a decision. I need you to pay attention and cooperate like your colleagues ».