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Addressing the meeting saboteurs

How to recognize and deal with a meeting saboteur.

Have you ever thought about the fact that a meeting that lasts two hours and have eight participants use as much as two full working days for one of your employees? Still, pointless meetings are the most abundant waste of time for almost all businesses. Find out how to address some of the employees who are trying to make your meetings longer, more boring and ultimately more expensive.

1. The talker

An unstructured chatterbox that starts at one end and continues in another and doesn't know where or when to stop because he/she doesn't know where he/she started. But this is not a question of a particular social or an evil nature, he/she just can't get to the point. He/she simply thinks out loud.

The Talker, like all other delegates, needs a chairman. Someone to direct the meeting, keeps track of time, makes sure that everyone stick to the subject and never forgets the big picture.

2. The Silent One

Silence, staring eyes and a snorted mouth can have an uncanny effectively silencing function even for those who really want to talk. Especially if it's an outward silence which can be felt by everyone in the room.

Summon only the employees who are affected by the meeting's case and who are necessary for you to make important decisions. Experience, work tasks and skills will determine who should participate. If the silent one should participate, but still sits quietly, you may as well let him/her (and the rest of you) do something else.

3. The Coffee drinker

He/she gets coffee, gets refills, offer and eat pastries continuously. This can be very annoying when you just want to get something done in a short time. The Coffee drinker, however, thinks it's the coffee time that is the point of the whole meeting.

Focus on work. Prohibit all kinds of refreshments during your short meetings and keep regular coffee breaks in an adjacent room when you have longer meetings. Distribute information to all the participants and ask them to prepare posts or presentations. After the meeting, ask for feedback and written follow-ups.

4. The Operator

The mobile phone in his/her pocket, the cordless phone lies on the table and if there’s a phone ringing in an adjacent room, he/she runs in and out of the conference room every time the phone rings. The Operator believes that every call can be life-changing, even if it’s someone else's phone that rings.

Tell people that you are not going to ask anyone to account for any missed ”vital” calls that occur within a short meeting - provided that the e-mail, voice mail or operator services are in operation.

5. The Interrupter

Once he/she gets an idea, he/she will not let anyone else speak and immediately begins to tell the world what he/she's come up with, often with a sense that what he has to say is a bit more important than what anyone else has to say.

The advantage of The Interrupter is that you can interrupt him/her whenever you want. Do it. The chairman is responsible for letting everyone getting a chance to speak his/her mind. All invitees are there to help as much as possible and it must be actively encouraged.

6. The Late One

The bus, car, train, kids, the flight, the bike ... You will always get an explanation of why The Late One always arrives late. What he/she doesn't want to understand is that it's his/her presence that makes your meetings better, not his/her excuses.

Set aside a specific time for your meetings and when the time has run out, the meeting is over. Period! Long meetings rarely make your decisions better, just more demanding. The need for time shrinks when everyone has become accustomed to a set deadline for the meeting to finish. And if The Late One is absolutely needed in time for the meeting, you can always ask him/her to arrive half an hour before everyone else.

7. The Whiteboard Artist

As soon as he/she has something to say, he/she immediately walks up to the whiteboard and starts drawing. If he/she says the word “round” he/she draws a circle, if he/she says the word ”all” he/she writes the word ”all”. Sometimes he/she even walks up to the white board without having anything to say. No one understands why, but The Whiteboard Artist enjoys the attention.

Always adapt the environment according to the meeting held. Avoid cozy sofas if you must have a short briefing, never discuss management issues standing in the hallway and remove the whiteboard if you know there's a Whiteboard Artist among you.

8. The Unprepared

Everyone has done their part, but not him/her. This meeting will be pretty much useless or perhaps you could even cancel it all together. A single unprepared participant can, if things go badly, sabotage a meeting for everyone else.

Make a list to check off before all meetings. All participants should receive an invitation with a clear agenda where you specify the type of meeting you will hold, what objectives the meeting should address and which participants will be involved and what they are expected to contribute with.

9. The Smart One

Now and then The Smart One interrupts to point out that the other participants have gone off the topic: ”Was it really this we came here to discuss?” or ”Aren’t we a bit off topic now?” The Smart One feels smart, the other participants are disturbed or impaired.

Always ask for clarification when someone is rhetorical. These kinds of “smart” people usually only thrive on the fact they won't have to be accountable for or back up his/her comments with a clear explanation of what they meant. When they are suddenly forced to do so, it's not as fun to be smart anymore.

10. The Chairman

An unstructured, long winded Chairman is both yours and your employees' nightmare. Mostly yours if it's you who are the chairman. Everyone knows that the meeting is a waste of time, stressful and people ultimately lose all motivation to work.

Don't let it happen at your company. Be prepared before the meeting and observe your own guidelines for how the meeting will proceed. If you like wasting time, your employees will lose respect for you and for their own work as well.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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