Containing a long winded speaker or dominator
People are often unaware that they are “going on” or stopping others from participating. It helps if you have agreed at the start, on a process of facilitating the participation of all or even the desirability of it. Time limits are useful if it becomes a common thing.
Ask for contributions from others who have not said anything; ask the group if that is the direction they want the discussion to go. Say ‘did we go over this before?’ ‘Do we need to repeat this?’ ‘Is it time to give someone else a chance?’
People being silent
Many people are shy and find it hard to speak in front of people, especially if there are a few people dominating. Often they may feel that they have no useful thoughts to add or else the climate of the meeting is simply not encouraging. The facilitator can encourage others by directly or indirectly calling on them to offer their opinions. If some people talk more than others – e.g. men more than women, or adults more than kids, then someone could keep a simple tally and draw attention to this as a way of inviting reticent people to speak up, and the dominators to give them some space.
Ask everyone to give an opinion, one by one, before anyone can discuss or evaluate the ideas further.
Two people monopolising the discussion
It happens all too easily in meetings that two people have strongly opposing views and the discussion quickly develops into a ‘back and forth’ contest between those two as they develop their arguments and battle it out. Others in the meeting may feel shut out and stay silent.
Re-focus the discussion away from the ‘duellists’ by involving others by questioning: “What does that mean to the rest of us?”; “How does that help us to solve the problem?”; summarising “Is this what you two seem to be saying”; bringing others in: “What do the rest of us think about this?”; adding: “You seem to have overlooked….”
Members distracting the meeting (by talking, shuffling papers, etc.)
This usually means that the people involved are either distracted themselves in which case they are likely to stop if attention is brought to it (’Dennis, could you stop tapping your pen on the table, it seems to be irritating a few people’) or they aren’t interested in what’s happening; don’t feel included; or feel the issues are irrelevant to them. Having agreement on the agenda and checking on it half way through the meeting can help. Make sure the issues being discussed are really necessary and delegate any that don’t have to be group decisions. If it happens often, have a “gripe” session when everyone can talk about what distracts them in meetings.
A tactful reminder that outside noise can be distracting for others. Ask if people need to take a break.
If necessary (last resort), identify the person by name and request they refrain from making the noise.
Latecomers and early leavers
Late starters and early leavers not only disrupt meetings but take energy away from the whole group by having to explain things or making people feel less secure in making decisions on behalf of a rapidly disintegrating group. Always starting on time encourages people to arrive on time. Ending meetings on time helps too. Making finishing times definite and known at the start of meetings is more likely to commit people to seeing them through and frees them from the anxiety of deciding when they can slip away. Check whether people will need to leave the meeting early. If it’s unavoidable, work out a procedure to update people which doesn’t stop the meeting.
Let latecomers know where you are up to in the meeting and ask someone to brief them at a later, convenient point.
People getting bored regularly
To keep meetings interesting, it can be a good idea to vary your meeting procedure from time to time. For example: – Have occasional presentations. It may be a brief report of a visit to a school, or an inservice course someone attended, or some local community speaker can brighten things up if it’s unexpected. You can also have a section of the meeting that varies each meeting. If your meetings are usually formal and not interactive you can introduce small group tasks where people have opportunity to connect with each other. Or you may take turns to lead the group through a different process or structured experience each meeting that will introduce a new skill to members. Encouraging members to learn practical skills such as problem solving, or how to table a motion, or how to do a community profile etc. can raise enthusiasm for meetings, especially if it is clear that people can then apply them to specific tasks.
Bad vibes in the meeting
Tension in meetings can be caused by a variety of reasons. Poor meeting processes (domination, non-participation, poor facilitating, frustration etc.) can add to the tension, as well as unspoken feelings and opinions. Good facilitation and attention to group process can assist.
Bring the issue out in the open and have a quick “gripe” session; have a break; consider adjourning the meeting so that specific hostilities can be dealt with by the people concerned.
People discussing too many issues at once
Often this indicates people have not really agreed on the agenda in which case it needs to be redrafted. If it is a matter of not focusing, the use of visual recording can help by noting all issues and agreeing to discuss them one by one or at a later time. If a topic is predictably confusing or complex, try and break it down into manageable bits before the meeting.
Request that contributions relate directly to the item being discussed; identify what you see as separate issues; ask group to set priorities for discussion.
This is often caused by the group not having any concrete short term goals or successes or feeling valued about their contribution. Be clear and realistic about long and short term aims and celebrate successes and achievements.
List the concrete achievements or positive aspects of the group; check whether individuals are still in agreement with group goals; structure a short term, success guaranteed campaign.
Group can’t agree or decide
Often due to having unclear goals or poor facilitation where no one is summarising the issues to make it easier to evaluate the pros and cons.
Summarise the discussion up to the present point; remind people of the goals or the criteria for deciding; re-state the issue or question; ask the group if it is ready to make a decision; postpone the decision until the next meeting or take a short break.
People getting lost or confused in the meeting
People sometimes assume that everyone else understands what’s going on, when this is not always true. However, if people do become confused, they may not be able to contribute. The Chair might need to be on the lookout for facial expressions and body-languare cues that people are confused or not following the discussion. Avoid confusion by making sure that people are aware of the structure of the meeting and know what to expect. Creating an atmosphere of trust and security where all members feel comfortable about asking questions or saying they are lost, helps enormously.
Review the agenda so that people will have a brief explanation of each topic to be covered at the meeting; give a recap of what has happened so far in the meeting; wrap up each agenda item with a call for final questions and restate any decisions made; evaluate the meeting to find out the successful aspects and what could be improved (this could be written or verbal). If the Chair becomes aware that some people are not understanding what’s going on, they might need to intervene with a question for the person speaking, such as, “Could you just explain the background to this, some people might not be aware of it…”.