The 9 types of people that ruin a meeting
Meetings represent those snippets in our day where we have to sit and confront our deepest fear: social interaction.
Steve Thompson, Managing Director of the marketing, analytics and digital recruitment agency Forward Role, highlights the importance of meetings in an organisation:
“Meetings can be useful, but we’ve all been in a meeting that’s been ruined by some bad habits. Whether it’s cutting people off mid-sentence, people twiddling their thumbs with their eyes on the clock or slurping down a late lunch, these habits — if left unchecked — can turn a good meeting into a bad one.”
Steve picked out some of the worst offenders, with a few tips on how you can deal with them.
- The late arrival
Arriving “fashionably late” might work for parties, but in the world of business, your delayed entrance will only frustrate everyone involved. Late arrivers are creatures of habit, and — like the proverbial hare — they chronically underestimate how long it will take them to get from A to B.
In dealing with a late arriver, do: Take a minute or two once the meeting has finished to privately ask your late arriver why they’re late. If their excuse isn’t legitimate, challenge them on improving their punctuality so it doesn’t impact others.
Don’t: Do a quick recap on their behalf of what’s happened up to that point. No one sits through recaps on Netflix, so don’t force the other people in your meeting to do so either.
- The phone checker
Research shows that we touch our phones 2,617 times a day; phone checkers bring the whole average up. In meetings, they’ll meet the minimum eye-contact quota before slowly succumbing to the allures of the world in their pocket, and before you know it, they’re four articles deep into Buzzfeed taking a quiz on how many types of bread they can name in three minutes.
When dealing with a phone checker, do: Politely ask them to put their phone away. If their habit is particularly extreme, you could implement a “no phones in meetings” policy.
Don’t: Confiscate the phone or complain about “kids these days”. That’s why no one liked Mr Wilson at school. If you’re reading this, Mr Wilson, I want my Nokia 3310 back.
- The multi-tasker
Everyone loves a hard worker. The problem is that hands-on individuals often fail to see the value of “sitting and talking”, no matter what the issue might be, and insist upon bringing their work along with them to the meeting. If you find yourself talking over the pitter-patter of laptop keys while you’re trying to explain the scope of a new marketing campaign, you might have a multi-tasker in the room.
When dealing with a multi-tasker, do: Wait until after the meeting to ask them about their work. Do they have too much to do? Are the deadlines too tight? Help them figure out which meetings they can skip if they need to, but be clear that if they’re in a meeting, they need to be all in.
Don’t: Try to shut their laptop on their fingers while they’re still typing. Even if you do it hard, it won’t be enough to stop them jabbing out a strongly worded email to HR.
- The sceptic
The sceptic or “Doubting Thomas” makes a regular appearance in important boardroom brainstorms, with the sole aim of crushing ideas underfoot while failing to provide any viable alternatives. Sceptics often discourage others from speaking up for fear of being made to look stupid, which means they need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
When dealing with a sceptic, do: Ask that everyone bring at least a few ideas to the meeting in preparation. This will help ensure sceptics have to contribute something to the meeting and encourage them to suspend judgement.
Don’t: Put on a silly voice and mimic them whenever they criticise anything.
- The conversationalist
Conversationalists are nice people that suffer from one fatal flaw: they talk much more than they listen. They’ll dip between their own conversation and the wider one when it suits them, failing to realise that there’s even a meeting happening. They would probably bring along a few beers if it were socially acceptable to do so.
When dealing with a conversationalist, do: Set the tone by going around the room and asking for the input of each person one by one. By having just one person speak at a time, conversationalists are more exposed and get policed by their peers.
Don’t: Ask them if they would like to run the meeting thinking that it’s a punishment for them. It’s not — they’ll probably take you up on it.
- The font of all knowledge
They’ve done their research. They’re passionate about what’s being discussed. On the surface, the font of all knowledge is the person you want at every single meeting you have. The only problem? Fonts don’t see the need for letting others add anything, because they’ve already thought of everything themselves.They’ll probably get to that idea eventually if you’d just, you know, let them keep talking, ideally for the whole meeting and maybe even when the meeting has finished and everyone is looking at their watches and oh gosh it’s lunchtime already but Brian is still talking.
In dealing with a font of all knowledge, do: Thank them for their idea (they’ll be the first to share) and quickly direct a question at another participant in the meeting.
Don’t: Yell “BORING!” while they’re mid-sentence.
- The interrupter
Interrupters aren’t malicious: most often, they simply lack the self-awareness needed to prevent from —
“What do you mean by that, exactly?”
… interrupting. Like that.
Interrupters often bring good ideas along with them and, unlike sceptics, tend to challenge ideas in order to improve them rather than to assert their authority. But all that interruption breaks the flow of the conversation and doesn’t allow people to reach the end of their thought before being —
“I’m just trying to get a scope of what you’re saying, here.”
… cut off.
When dealing with an interrupter, do: Orchestrate the meeting so that there are regular times in which questions about a thought or a proposal can be raised. For example, let one person in the meeting communicate a thought, and then ask “Does anyone have any questions about that?” Interrupters will jump right in there, allowing them to use their critiquing ability for good.
Don’t: Deliberately interrupt them when they’re speaking. They’ll probably just interrupt you back and then you have to shout over each other to save face and that’s just awkward.
- The human statue
Human statues subscribe to the Jurassic Park school of meeting etiquette: “Don’t move! They can’t see me if I don’t move.” Though they don’t appear to be doing any harm, human statues are among the most dangerous characters to have in a meeting because they encourage passivity in others.
When dealing with a human statue, do: Approach them before the meeting and let them know that you’ll be asking them for input in the discussion. That way, you dispel the “what if” factor — they know for sure they’ll be picked, and should come prepared to speak up.
Don’t: Inform them that T-rexes actually had good vision and that keeping still wouldn’t save them in a life-and-death scenario.
- The gastronomist
Fresh coriander, smoked paprika, melted cheese, roasted chorizo… These are all smells that you’d love to catch a whiff of in your favourite restaurant, but in the boardroom, it’s a little distracting. Nevertheless, gastronomists will bring along their little gourmet lunch boxes and proceed to noisily devour their meal while you try to explain why conversion rates are down for the third month in a row.
When dealing with a gastronomist, do: Check their schedule. If they physically have no time in their day for lunch, you should work with them to clear their diaries of less important meetings to give them some “me time” to enjoy their tupperware-packed duck confit with rosemary and thyme.
Don’t: Try to one-up them with a pan-seared filet mignon and a nicely paired Chianti.