5 personalities that wreck a meeting

Facing off
photo courtesy flickr user shoothead

(MoneyWatch) If you work in a large corporation, chances are you spend a lot of time in meetings. And if you spend a lot of time in meetings, you soon see human nature displayed in its full glory as people jockey for attention, claim credit for anything they can and prey, Darwinian-style, on weaker members of the tribe. If you're running a session, here are five kinds of people that can make things go awry fast -- and how to deal with them:

1. The bully. Speaks loudly and speaks for softer-spoken team members, apparently deciding that they are unable to make their points for themselves. Actually says things like "that's a stupid idea" to someone whose ideas aren't stupid. Feel free to treat this person like the second grader whose behavior he's channeling. "Jeff, we're listening to Mary right now." If you let him get away with his infractions, they'll just get worse.

2. The non sequitur. This person needs to be heard and either doesn't understand or doesn't care that the ground rules of a discussion require at least some relation between discussion points. Interrupt swiftly with "That's an interesting point. Let's table that and move back to our current agenda item." Don't have a timed meeting agenda? Then you're inviting this behavior.

3. The would-be visionary. This frustrated philosopher has a nasty habit of sending the discussion down a rabbit hole by proposing ideas that sound deep the first time you hear them, like "What if we doubled that?" but then leave you cringing by the time he's brought them up in his third meeting. Respond with humor if you can: "I'd love if our revenue doubled too, Steve. Now back to the question of why we lost the Smith account."

4. The constant questioner. This person assumes that asking questions about everything the speaker says makes her sound smart and attentive, not realizing (or caring) how distracting it is. Unless the person is your boss, deflect with "We'll be getting to that, and I promise I'll make time in 5 minutes for questions." This person usually turns out not to have any real questions once he or she realizes it won't be possible to turn the meeting into a Socratic dialogue.

5. The rambler. Occasionally makes good points, but buries each nugget in 10 minutes of fluff. Unless you want your 20-minute meeting to last an hour, get adept at asking nicely, "Jan, do you come out for it or against it?" or another such question that cuts to the chase.

How do you keep bad meeting personalities in check?

Photo courtesy flickr user shoothead