You’re a pretty good meeting leader, if you do say so yourself. You welcome all ideas, encourage contributions from everyone and keep the meeting on track. However — sometimes you get participants who challenge your confidence in your leadership skills.

Here are some of the most challenging personalities that can derail a meeting, bring it to a stand-still or prevent the goals of the meeting from being carried out afterward. It’s essential as a meeting facilitator or leader to know how to handle these difficult personalities smoothly and confidently and not take the behavior personally. By doing that, you can ensure that the meeting is valuable for everyone, including the people who may have no idea that they are a negative, disruptive influence.

Who Is Present in Your Meeting?

The Dominator
There are different types of dominators. Some are simply excited and want to contribute. They don’t realize that they are interrupting or discouraging other people from speaking up. However, other dominators are overly negative or even angry about other people’s ideas or the company itself.

Professional facilitators will tell you that certain techniques work for both a positive or negative dominator. A simple one is to thank them for his/her input or write it down on the easel or whiteboard and then ask for others to make suggestions.

You may want to ask everyone to write down some ideas and then ask everyone to read one, or go around the room asking for thoughts to encourage everyone to take their turn participating. Sometimes breaking up the room into small groups to discuss an idea before sharing with the room can help. Also, using a ball or other object to designate whose turn it is to speak is helpful.

If all of that fails, you may want to take a break and appeal to the dominator personally. Explain that they’ve made some good points, but you’d like to try to get input from those who haven’t spoken yet.

If you’re dealing with a negative dominator, it may be helpful for him/her to get some anger and frustration out of his/her system, in a non-abusive way. However, it’s essential to maintain control. Don’t argue, but state your position clearly. Using his/her name when addressing the dominator can help you maintain control and set boundaries.

These participants dismiss every idea, convinced that it won’t work. Some people’s negativity arises from distrust, while others think no one cares what they think. Staying positive but realistic can work with both types of naysayers. If someone doesn’t feel like he/she is being heard, make a point to listen and affirm his/her ideas. Negative naysayers can sometimes be stopped with facts. Bring up the negatives and then dismiss them by stating the facts. Get the rest of the group in on the discussion to fight the negativity. Most importantly, don’t get into an argument with the naysayer.

Ramblers and Know-it-Alls
These can be different types of personalities, but both can end up dominating a meeting if not controlled. Ramblers often get off topic with long, circuitous monologues. Know-it-alls consider themselves more knowledgeable about a subject than anyone else in the room and want to show off their knowledge.

For both of these types, having a printed agenda can come in handy. Point to the agenda and refocus the group. Participants respect a meeting leader who is cognizant of the time and agenda and keeps the meeting moving. Many meeting leaders suggest that they discuss the topic “offline” with the participant at a later time.

The people who don’t participate can be the most challenging of all. You want to know what they’re thinking and you want them to participate. You don’t want them working against the group or refusing to get involved in the project because of issues they have but didn’t bring up. Ask them open-ended questions and wait for answers — no matter how long it takes.

Techniques for Minimizing the Impact of These Personalities
Of course, these are just a few of the problem personalities you can encounter in meetings. The important thing for dealing with them is to act early to send a message to everyone about what will and will not be accepted. It’s easier to set boundaries early on than to try to rein people in after the meeting has gotten away from you.

Certified master facilitators recommend using less assertive language to see if that works before moving on to more assertive interventions if necessary. Don’t make your discipline personal. When discussing a participant’s behavior, emphasize that you’re representing the needs of the team. Don’t make it a personality issue between you and the participant.

If you’re continuing to have problems getting the most out of your meetings because of these personality types, you may benefit from calling in a facilitator to handle one or two meetings. At, we can match you up with a professional facilitator experienced in dealing with difficult personalities. This will give you a chance to watch and learn. Having a facilitator in the room who doesn’t know the participants may also make the disruptive people in your meetings recognize and adjust their behavior.

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