You know the guy (or maybe it’s a gal): the one who steamrolls the meeting with their own agenda item.
You can see it coming: his eyes light up, he leans in a little bit, he’s even salivating, isn’t he?
The next agenda item is remotely related to his pet topic.
He’s getting ready to pounce.
He gets his chance and then . . . BAM! He’s on a roll and there’s no stopping him.
You send all the right non-verbal messages to get him to stop. You try to interrupt. You glance around the table and see that everyone else is resigned to the next 15 minutes (or more!) of his recapitulation. You give up and settle in, feeling defeated.
“How do I stop that guy?” a participant in a workshop recently asked me.
Here’s how you stop “that guy” from derailing the meeting:
Step 1: Be Ready.
You can’t effectively stop him if you’re not ready. Watch for signals that he’s about to jump in, uninvited. You might need to observe him in action a few times before you are fully ready.
Think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist: your objective is to learn the characteristics and habits of the interloper. What actions does he take in the moments and micro-moments before he interrupts?
Get to know those characteristics until they are second nature. You’ll be better able to head him off – and you’ll be more confident.
Step 2: Jump In, Just Before He Starts.
You’ve studied him. You know his demeanor. You know the specific gesture he makes just before he interrupts. You’ve strategically seated yourself across the table from him so you have an unimpeded view. He leans in and adjusts his glasses, just like he always does.
And then, BAM! You’re there. And you jump in and take control of managing the turns in the conversation. You have two choices:
1. You take a turn yourself. That is, if you’ve got something to say.
2. You give the turn to someone else. It sounds like this: “Let’s hear from Jeanne about how we are doing on the budget before we take the discussion any further.”
Step 3: Redirect. Respectfully, Of Course.
If he persists — and he will — repeat the steps and redirect the conversation.
It sounds like this: “Steve, I know you have a lot of interest/passion/history with this project. In order for us to address all the things we need to cover in this meeting, we need to stick to a tight timeframe to make sure we get it all in. We still need to hear from Sherry on the budget and Rick on the overall timetable first. Sherry?”
You need to say that with complete confidence and authority. If you waver in the slightest, he will jump right in and you’ll be back to square one.
You might also seek the support of a confederate on this. Let someone else in the meeting, ideally one of the people you’d like to take a turn instead, in on what you are doing. They can back you up – and be ready to take the next turn when you pass it to them.
Your turn: Next time you are in this situation, jump on it.
Everyone will thank you.
Well, okay, one person won’t.
But everyone else will.
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