Ramblers and side conversations: How to redirect focus during meetings

Use the following tips to keep meeting detractors on topic and contributing to group goals.

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, groups 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 the behavior in meetings.

Michigan State University Extension, 4-H bulletin Effective Control of Meetings, identifies 11 different types of personalities and how they affect meetings. This article in the series addresses the following personalities in meetings: The rambler, side conversationalist and overly talkative.

Ramblers are people who can’t stay on topic, allow ideas to flow freely to the next and end up getting lost in their thoughts, only derailing the work of the group. Ramblers often provide plentiful ideas, but their brainstorming out loud can distract groups from their goals. When rambling behavior becomes problematic, it’s appropriate to gently interrupt during a pause in conversation, refocus the person’s attention on the subject at hand and work to move the group forward.

Side conversationalists often turn the subject matter to storytelling about personal events or interactions that may only be loosely related to the topic of the group. It’s important to refocus this person’s energy onto the pertinent discussion. Thank them for their input, and then kindly ask them to relate their story to the topic on the agenda.

In both of these instances, group facilitators are charged with keeping the group on topic and being prepared to respectfully intervene when help is needed to redirect a conversation. This requires a facilitator that can respectfully intervene in appropriate breaks on conversations. Allowing off-topic conversations to carry on for too long can disenfranchise otherwise engaged members.

Please refer to the remaining articles in this series for more examples of personalities in meetings.

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