Let’s be honest. Nearly everyone has to deal with their own version of a Trump at some point — someone who walks into a business meeting and turns it into a train wreck. They not only think they have the right to derail, hijack, and otherwise disrupt a meeting, they’re really good at it.
Meetings have never been our strong suit, but Trump’s behavior sets off alarm bells across the board, regardless of politics. We never forget terrible meetings and problematic encounters, and always wonder what we could have done to avoid them. As a communications and meetings specialist, I see this too frequently. Whether enormous corporations, legacy firms or hungry startups, from seasoned executives to young managers, the question I’m asked the most is how to deal with someone like Trump.
There is a way to overcome your own version of Trump and keep your meeting on track. These five effective strategies start before the meeting:
1. Know who and what you’re dealing with well in advance of the meeting.
Among the many disruptive personalities that can ruin a meeting, Trump’s is a triple threat: a Think-They-Know-it-All Tank with Positional Power. A Think-They-Know-It-All insists they know everything, though clearly, they don’t. The answer to their ego, competing with everyone else: If you were sick, they were sicker. If you had a great vacation, theirs was greater. Great idea? Nope, listen to theirs. When they are also Tanks they can be even more challenging: they crash through discussions, trampling other people’s ideas. They refuse to absorb or accept conflicting information, won’t respect the consultation of experts, and refuse to stick to an agenda they didn’t create. And it’s even harder to unseat someone who knows they’re top dog. But it’s not impossible.
2. Get their buy-in.
To start the power of a Think-They-Know-It-All-Tank with Positional Power, appeal to what they want. Their Think-They-Know-It-All part wants attention and validation, their Tank part wants to push forward to get things done, and being in a position of power means they want to look good. You can leverage this mindset effectively by letting them know you have a proposal: a terrific way to run meetings in a clear format that saves time, energy, and money, and will have a far more desirable outcome. Tanks, ironically, have their hearts in the right place but don’t know how to make it happen. Get them to buy into the concept first.
3. Create an agenda for the meeting.
The format you create and stick to will keep the meeting on course. Your agenda should include the reason for having the meeting, the purpose of each agenda item and a statement of what you expect from everyone there regarding that item. Also, define the process to be used: Everyone needs to know why they have to spend 40 minutes in a meeting as opposed to doing their own work, and how the meeting will be run. Your agenda is a flight plan that limits what topics will be focused on, the process to be used and how people can contribute. Make sure to distribute it ahead of time. It offers you built-in protection if the Tank’s taking the meeting of course: just clarify that it’s not on the agenda. Preemptively, you make it clear that if the troublemaker heads off on a tangent, you will call the meeting back to the topic at hand.
4. Establish a speaking order with time limits.
There are two options to a speaking order: either by name or around the circle. For name order, you take names, then go down the list and call on each one. For a circular order, just go around the room and call on each person. In both cases, everyone knows they will get the chance to talk. So those who tend to shy away from talking, especially in the presence of a tank, know they will get a turn and feel safe to speak up. Those who tend to speak for too long have to curtail their long-windedness. People who blurt out anything that crosses their minds have to wait for their turn. With everyone in agreement on this, it’s the room that has the power, and not the Tank, which keeps the meeting from being hijacked.
5. Have a ‘flight recorder.”
Record what people are saying so everyone can see it — on a flip chart, a shared screen, or whatever works for the meeting space. By making the speaker’s ideas and point of view visible, it establishes that all ideas and viewpoints are important. Those with ego needs to feel validated by seeing their contribution in writing. It also depersonalizes the discussion so it’s not someone’s thoughts versus another’s. By keeping them visible, they don’t get lost in the shuffle. This prevents a Tank’s tendencies to repeat points to keep them in everyone’s awareness, and take credit for other people’s ideas. Flight recording also enables the group to reach a more detailed and higher understanding of the subject. I call that holographic thinking, and it produces the best solutions. And there’s your better outcome, as you originally proposed it to the Think-They-Know-It-All-Tank with Positional Power.
These five strategies in place create a profound result: people want to come to another meeting. So many of us have given up on meetings, and dealing with disruptive behaviors is a key reason why. But the bottom line here is that you can effectively corral the problematic personality — even one that’s been the source of constant office consternation. Appealing to them first got them invested in a better outcome. But you and everyone else in the room know that it’s not really about that person at all. It’s about the meeting.
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