FREE Monster Bundle Every Week Every Year


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Monsters in Meetings – Part 3, Drifting From the Topic

We welcome new ideas, sort of.

True, new ideas lead to creative solutions. But, they can be a challenge when they interrupt or distract the work on an issue.

Here’s how to bring your meeting back on track when some offers an amazing (seemingly unrelated) idea.

Approach 1: Question the relationship to topic

When new ideas seem inappropriate, say:

“That’s an interesting point (or question). And how does it relate to our topic?”

“Excuse me. We started talking about our budget and now we seem to be discussing payroll administration. Is this what we want to work on?”

“We seem to be working on a new issue. I’m sure this is important, and I wonder what you want to work on with the time we have left?”

These statements greet the ideas with compliments and requests for clarification. This recognizes that the other person could believe the idea relates to the topic, which it may.

Approach 2: Place in the Idea Bin

Use an Idea Bin to manage unrelated ideas. And Idea Bin is a blank chart page posted on the wall with the title: Idea Bin. Some groups call it an Issue Bin or Parking Lot. The scribe writes new ideas on this chart page or the participants write their ideas on Post-it(™) Notes that they place on the page.

Direct new ideas to the Idea Bin by saying:

“That’s a great idea. Could you put it in the Idea Bin?”

When you plan the agenda, leave time at the end of the meeting to check the Idea Bin. You will find that many of the new ideas were resolved during the meeting.

I prefer to avoid working on new issues without learning about them and planning an approach. There is always more to know about a new issue. And sometimes they can be resolved without a meeting, or if a meeting is warranted, it may be a meeting with different people than the ones in the current meeting.

Thus, tell the group that you will contact those who introduced the issue and plan an approach for dealing with it.

This is the third of a seven part article on Managing Monsters in Meetings.

Monsters in Meetings – Part 1, How to Manage Unproductive Behavior

It happens easily.

You’re conducting a meeting and suddenly a small side meeting starts. Then two side meetings develop. Soon you have many meetings going at once, and all of them are out of control.

Or maybe someone introduces an unrelated issue. Someone else ridicules the new issue. Everyone laughs, except the person who mentioned the idea. Then someone insults the person who told the joke. Two people stand up and walk out. Others complain that the meeting is a waste of time.

So, how do you prevent things like this from happening?

Or how do you bring your meeting back on track?

Let’s begin with basic strategies for dealing with unproductive behavior in meetings.

Respect other people.
Always treat others with respect, even if they are doing things that seem wrong. Their “bad” behavior could be based on many things, such as a lack of skill, a misunderstanding, or a response to a threat. It could also be a simple mistake. Or maybe they’re expressing an indirect warning, complaint, or cry of pain. If you respond with disrespect, such as with a counterattack, you will make a bad situation worse. They will either retreat, which means they stop contributing to your meeting, or they will retaliate, which can escalate to an argument that ruins your meeting.

Ask questions.
Use questions to find out what is really happening. For example, if someone introduces a new issue, respond by saying, “That sounds interesting, and I wonder how that relates to what we are working on.” Notice that this is a neutral, gentle question. It is not a trick question like, “What are your trying to do, ruin my meeting?” and it is not a command like, “Hey, stick to the topic.” Hostile responses are bad because they put the other person in an awkward position, which always ruins cooperation.

Focus on the behavior.
Your goal is to hold an effective meeting — not teach lessons. If you attempt to punish people, through admonitions, ridicule, or threats, you will make enemies. In the short term, that can ruin the effectiveness of your meeting, and in the long term it can ruin your career. So, when unproductive behavior appears in your meeting, talk about the behavior. For example, if a side conversation starts, you could say, “We seem to have more than one meeting going on now, and that’s preventing us from working on the budget.”

Apply diplomatic courage.
Leaders project strength and confidence; losers project negativity and fear. Detach from the behavior that seems bothersome, realizing it is simply something that the other person is doing. Assume that there is no personal intent to hurt you. Just talk about what is happening and ask for what you want to happen as shown in the above paragraph.

Show what you expect.
Be a model of effective meeting behavior. If it is your meeting, or if you hold a leadership role in your organization, realize that others regard you as the standard for their actions. If you arrive on time for meetings, others will interpret this to mean that they should come to your meetings on time. If you make positive, appropriate contributions in meetings, others will infer that this is what you expect from them.

Apply these strategies to make your meetings effective.

This is the first of a seven part article on Managing Monsters in Meetings.


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