Negotiating Tip #49:
Kill Off Meeting Monsters
As negotiators, we spend a lot of time in meetings – with clients, with our own team. But too few of us have ever received training in how to run an effective meeting.
The Financial Times’ Pilita Clark warns, “A bad meeting is like a virus. By failing to produce good decisions, it often requires another meeting to be held, then another and another.” She makes what should be an obvious point but which is often overlooked: “People need to know in advance why they are meeting, what they are supposed to achieve, who really needs to be there, and how they should contribute.” (“Why We Must Do More to Kill Off Meeting Monsters,” Financial Times, November 30, 2020; We must do more to kill off meeting monsters.)
The biggest reason for bad meetings is “meeting monsters” – those who take the discussion off-topic, those who dominate the proceedings (and do not necessarily contribute much) while blocking off input from those who need to be heard, those who ramble on interminably, those who say nothing during the meeting but afterwards deride the group’s decision as unworkable. It can be awkward to admonish or cut off such people, so our natural instinct is to just wait them out. That can work to a point, but only to a point. There comes a moment when the meeting coordinator needs to firmly steer the discussion back on track.
When we meet in person, people can use body language to signal impatience with a meeting monster, and if the guilty party does not get the message, the group will – which facilitates the coordinator’s task at reining in the offender. The problems created by meeting monsters are particularly severe for telephone or remote meetings, where such cues are harder to convey. That creates an extra responsibility for the coordinator to have a firm hand when needed.