Challenging personalities in meetings: Tools to address negative behaviors

Suggestions on how to keep meetings focused and negative behaviors at a minimum.

Meetings are a regular occurrence in almost every facet of society. Meetings take place in the work place, in government and policy making, and at the community level. Michigan 4-H Youth Development engages youth in 4-H club meetings where youth begin to practice skills that are needed to run a meeting effectively. Another level of meetings in 4-H involves regular meetings with program advisory groups that help to guide work at the county level. Whatever the setting, we may occasionally encounter challenging personalities that may stifle our ability to accomplish goals in a meeting. This is the second in a series of articles that examines challenging behavior and the best ways to address it in meetings.

Michigan State University Extension, 4-H bulletin, Effective Control of Meetings, identifies eleven different types of personalities and how they affect meetings. For this article we will examine the professional heckler, the complainer/griper and the personality clash behaviors. The professional heckler typically has a combative personality or is highly argumentative. They may normally be good natured, but personal issues may influence their personality in a meeting. This individual often derails conversation and distracts the group from accomplishing goals. When dealing with this individual, it is important that group leaders keep calm, keep their own temper in check and don’t let others get excited either. Try to find merit in a point the individual makes, acknowledge that point and then move on. If misinformation is shared with the group, try and look to others to clarify facts so it is not always one person questioning the information. If the behavior occurs over multiple meetings, a private conversation with the individual may be the best approach in order to help them recognize and improve their behavior.

The complainer/griper is a person that has either a pet-peeve or gripes for the sake of complaining. Often this individual has legitimate complaints, and are willing to express them but are often overlooked in a group because of the overall negative approach to “all” topics. In addressing these individuals it is easy to want to try and talk with them and change their mind by giving advice, or engage in an argument with them. Over time, it may seem easier to ignore them than to address them. All of these reactions fuel this individual and their challenging personality. Ways to address them in order to make them part of the team is to put concerns back on them. Try asking, “How would you address this?” When the individual is making or saying positive comments, praise them for their positive approach. Be ready to help, support and guide this individual when they present a solution to their complaints. Last but not least, be a positive role model yourself.

The personality clash is where two people do not mix well, and can cause division among participants. This is dangerous to the success of the meeting as this is most often about individuals versus the topic at hand. When addressing these individuals, try and emphasize the points of agreement and minimize the points of disagreement. Redirect the focus of their discussion to the specific points and task at hand. Often the group needs to be reminded of the purpose of the meetings and they may find common ground by revisiting the purpose.

Recognizing the different roles and personalities that individuals have in a meeting is important for the balance and success of your meeting. Difficult people will upset the balance of your meeting, de-motivating individuals and keeping you from accomplishing tasks. There is a big difference in individuals that participate in lively discussions that involves disagreeing with others and the ones that are there to kill the momentum of the group. Participants look to the leader of the meeting to maintain control and accomplish group success. Get to know individuals in meetings and be prepared to manage all personalities for the success of the group. Successful tips for additional personalities can be found in additional articles.

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