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How to Manage Difficult Meetings

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 11/8/2010

We’ve all been there—the office meeting free for all! Nothing gets accomplished, people argue and temperatures run high. If this happens to you over and over again, you need to know how to manage difficult meetings by turning your leadership style around.

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    Have You Lost Control?

    Have You Lost Control Whether you are a project manager or supervisor in charge of status meetings or any type of company meeting, if you lose control of the meeting, you won’t get anything accomplished. You can read books or take a class on how to run an effective meeting but did you ever wonder if you’re experiencing leadership problems that leave you lost on how to manage difficult meetings?

    Before you stop holding meetings altogether, you can use these tips to help you take control of difficult meetings.

    Image Credit (RLV)

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    Plan, Do, Act!

    Just like the Plan-Do-Check Act or PDCA, you can use the PDA method or plan, do, act to run an effective meeting:

    • Have an Agenda – This is probably the biggest reason meetings get out of control and become difficult. If you have no plan, expect chaos and a room full of opinions. Take the time to develop an agenda.
    • Set Time Limits – I’ve been to many meetings where the time limit for each agenda items was offered but no one paid attention to the limit. Do control your time limits even if you have to end an agenda topic abruptly; you can always table the topic for further review. After all, if there is that much discussion, chances are no one’s on the same page anyway.
    • Be a Leader – This may be difficult for you, especially if you’ve had problems with learning how to manage difficult meetings in the past. Here’s where the “acting" part of your meeting comes into play. Think of a leader you admire and be that person—people will take notice and pay attention.

    What if you’ve tried the plan, do, act approach and it hasn’t worked? What’s next?

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    Rule & Separate—Literally

    Be a Ruler The leader in you must rule and if you are the leader, you already know about "Long-Winded Will" or "Indecisive Irene." Here’s where the rule and separate controls for meetings can help:

    • Be a Ruler - As the “ruler" you need to set some guidelines for Long-Winded Will and Indecisive Irene (and other types like them). They’re not only unproductive, they can harm a meeting. Meet with these people individually and explain the game rules—and the meeting rules.
    • Two Heads Are Better Than One – If you’ve find yourself in a conundrum that seems two-sided, why not separate the group? Two groups of people who agree are better than one group where no one agrees. Set a time limit for the two groups and guidelines on how the meeting will flow (including conflict resolution) when the groups rejoin; a spokesperson from each group is a great idea for revealing the group's ideas and suggestions.
    • Finish On Time – Make sure you finish on time—no questions asked. If you’re leading the meeting, you should know when it’s over.

    Image Credit (Zazzle)

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    Lost Control? Get It Back!

    Be a Leader Even after all these suggestions on how to manage difficult meetings, what if nothing works? Don’t fret because you are not alone.

    Sometimes you are forced to use a Situational Leadership style! If you must—do it, and don’t worry about the consequences—you are the leader and the organizer of the meeting, so be that leader.

    There is much advice about how to keep control of difficult or chaotic meetings, but if you can’t rely on yourself to handle those meetings—you do indeed need some leadership skills. Learn more about your leadership style and use that to your advantage to hold, run, and manage your meetings exactly the way you want them to run. You’ll be more successful in the long run and gain the respect as not just the meeting organizer or project manager but also as a mentor others strive to be.

    Now go ahead and hold that meeting and run it your way!

    Image Credit (Freedigitalphotos)

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