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What to do about “conflictive” people?

In a recent workshop, “Excellent meetings at work,” this question came up: Is it valid not to invite someone because we believe s/he is conflictive or will create conflict?

The main reason to invite someone to a work meeting is that their contribution to the issue under discussion is important.

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Question for the meeting organizers: Are we willing to listen and consider the “conflictive” people’s points of view?

If the honest reply is “no” then it is better not to invite them – and be prepared to explain the reason behind this decision. Besides, we should recognize that without their participation, the group might make wrong decisions due to not having considered the interests of these people. In addition, those decisions might spark resistance, rebelliousness, or attacks from the people who were excluded from the discussion.

Question for the organizers: Is it possible that “conflictive” people could have concerns that should be considered?

Following are a few examples of dealing with “conflictive” persons in work meetings. Each example includes a question with the intention of inviting the event organizers to reflect.

Example 1. The “conflictive” person always presents the same argument in each meeting, whether it is pertinent or not. S/he takes advantage of having an audience to express their beliefs. The conflict arises when the group gets tired of listening to the same “issue” time and again, especially when it seems to be irrelevant to the points under discussion.

Question for the organizers: Have you talked to that person apart from the meeting to find out what their intention is by repeating their message – that apparently has little or nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting – and to explain why you ask they do not?

Example 2. The group itself, and/or its leaders, are afraid of conflict and they do not know what to do when it arises. Instead of embracing different opinions and exploring them with curiosity, they tend to not allow those who bring up conflict to speak.

Question for the organizers: Have you got the tools to face conflicts calmly, confidently, and creatively?

The following five steps help cool down emotions and allow group members to listen to each other:

  1. Recognize there are opposing points of view.
  2. Remind the group what the issue under discussion is, and the expected outcome of the meeting (i.e., collecting ideas, prioritizing options, making a decision, etc.).
  3. Summarize the issues that are not controversial.
  4. Point out the issues yet to be resolved.
  5. Jointly find a process to work those issues out.

There are many options for dealing with point 5, but if you cannot come up with one at the moment, you can always ask the group for suggestions, saying, “So what should we do? What are the next steps to explore these different opinions?”

IIFAC offers coaching to help facilitators cover the challenges of working with groups. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.

Establishing a meeting “time budget”

Making optimal use of the group’s time is one of the critical success factors in any meeting. So how do you decide how much time to allot for each issue on the agenda?

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Keep in mind that each meeting represents a unique opportunity to accomplish something worthwhile. Agenda planning, therefore, should not be viewed as a “cookie cutter” process in which every meeting follows exactly the same process.

These guidelines are intended to provide agenda planners with a starting point for designing meetings that both satisfy the organization’s needs and leave participants feeling that their time was well used.

How much time do you have?
Start by determining the duration of the meeting. Be realistic! If you know that in your context meetings typically start 20 minutes later than the announced time, consider that when planning the agenda.

Include time for Beginning and Ending.
The issues to discuss or decide are only one part of an effective agenda. Time is also needed to open and close the meeting. Dedicating 5-10% of overall meeting time to each of these aspects can greatly enhance the success of the meeting.

Here are some examples of these elements and the purpose they serve.

Remember to add breaks.
If the meeting will last more than 90 minutes, you need to set time aside for breaks. (See: Why your meetings need breaks).

Calculate the time available for discussing and deciding.

Prioritize the issues for discussion/decision.
Make a list of topics proposed for discussion/decision in the meeting and classify them by level of urgency, controversy, complexity or other criteria relevant to the group. A matrix like this may help establish priorities.

In general, issues that are complex and/or controversial require more time for discussion and/or making a decision. Information-only items (such as reports) often take a lot of meeting time without adding much value. We recommend finding other ways to share information that is not directly related to discussions or decisions on the current agenda.

Sub-divide the time for each item for discussion or decision.
For example, if you have a total of 20 minutes available for an issue, consider the following use of that time.

If this seems like too little time to produce the desired outcome, then look for ways to reassign time from other agenda items until you have “balanced your time budget.”

Words of caution
If your meetings usually have a long list of undifferentiated agenda items (what we sometimes call the “laundry list”) with no specific outcomes identified or time limits assigned, the group is setting itself up for boredom, frustration and other forms of needless suffering. Changing these habits takes a firm commitment on the part of the meeting conveners and facilitators. Implementing the agenda-planning practices described here can have a positive effect on team morale, meeting productivity, and lead to better results for the organization and those you serve.

IIFAC offers coaching to help you plan your meeting agendas. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.

Related articles
Why your meetings need breaks
Take a moment for the soul to arrive
The art of closing a meeting
The “laundry list” syndrome and how to counteract it

Free resource
Guide to Excellent Meetings at Work

Boredom: The tragic result of poor meeting planning

We believe that meetings should be meaningful, dynamic, interesting, engaging, productive – or cancelled. Too often, however, everyday business meetings are neither interesting nor cancelled, they are BORING.

Too many people have come to accept boredom in meetings as an inevitable fact of organizational life. For IIFAC facilitators, boredom is the business equivalent of a medical emergency. Immediate, effective action is called for! The group is suffering a life-threatening loss of time, energy and enthusiasm!

Hold yourself to a higher standard of performance

If you are the person convening the meeting,

  • Insist that each meeting have a clearly defined purpose.
  • Ensure that those invited understand what that purpose is and why you need them there.
  • Limit agenda items to issues directly related to the meeting purpose.
  • Define expected outcomes, responsibilities, and next steps.
  • End on time – or early!

Notice the verbs in the above list: Insist, ensure, limit, define, end. They are actions, not vague intentions. They show respect for the colleagues you are calling together and promise to use their time productively.

Break the mold

Other strategies for declaring an end to “business as usual” meetings:

  • Vary the time and place for the meetings.
  • Close the door at the announced starting time and do not allow latecomers to enter.
  • Eliminate chairs and tables in meetings billed as “quick check in”.
  • Use a countdown clock to measure elapsed time. Stop when it runs out.
  • Post the agenda on the wall and stick to it.
  • Do not allow anyone to speak twice on an issue until all have had the opportunity to speak once.
  • When arguments begin to recycle, stop the discussion and ask for proposed solutions.

Next month we will share more tips on how to make your meetings more productive. Meanwhile, tell us what bold measures you have taken to keep participants engaged.

IIFAC offers coaching to help you plan your meeting agendas. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.
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