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Always empower your participants, but learn to control challenging personality types to avoid problem meetings.

First of all, the deliverable or decision is theirs, not yours. Therefore, manage politics by removing ideas from the individual participant and turning it over to the entire group. Because it’s not WHO is right, rather WHAT is right that we seek. All ideas belong to all participants—never to an individual. While ‘Ground Rules’ help mitigate some behavior, firmer action is required for select individuals. As a result, difficult participants known to cause problem meetings are discussed below.

Firm But Flexible, How to Manage Personality Types in Problem Meetings

Difficult Meeting Participants, problem meetings

Problem Meetings and Difficult Participants

When erratic or distracting behavior occurs, prepare to control it. While ‘Ground Rules’ may help contain much of the non-malicious behavior, additional interventions are required for select personality types. The following table lists the characteristics of difficult participants that could cause problem meetings. Each comes with thoughtful and proven suggestions on how to deal with them.



Launches verbal, personal attacks on other group members and/ or facilitator; constantly ridicules a specific point of view. Stand between two people fighting; stop attacks; maybe use additional ground rules 
to control.

Backseat Driver

Keeps telling the session leader or facilitator what to do—or not do; attempts to control the meeting by changing the methodology. Listen to some comments—because they may be good; never turn over control; talk to them during breaks; enforce scope.

Broken Record

Brings up the same point repeatedly; constantly tries to focus discussion of this issue; can prevent group from moving ahead to new items even if ready. The broken record needs to be heard.  Document their input but do not make it an open item until later in the workshop.


Ducking in and out of meetings, does not ask subordinates to hold calls, gives impression of being too busy (and therefore important) to devote full attention to the meeting and the group. Deal with similar to the latecomer or early leaver; try to establish rules to control during preparation. Allow frequent bio-breaks for people to react to their electronic leashes.


Constantly engaged with their smart phones or laptop; expresses disapproval or dislike by ignoring the proceedings; may read, do unrelated paperwork to avoid getting engaged in the session.  Caution, a doodler is not dropping out—they may be a horizontal thinker. Use laser focus so that they know that you see them. During a break, talk to them. Do NOT publicly call out their name and ask for participation.

Encourage your culture to embrace “topless meetings” that prohibit laptops and smart devices.

Early Leaver

Drains group’s energy and morale by leaving meeting before its end. Handle similar to a latecomer; do not stop the meeting for one person.

Head Shaker

Actively expresses disapproval through body language and nonverbal cues such as rolling eyes, shaking head, crossing and uncrossing arms, sighing, etc.  Covertly may influence a group to reject an idea. Approach the head shaker. Use open hands to ask them to explain a viable, counter position. Do not allow these nonverbal cues to continue unnoticed.


Always speaks for someone else, usually without invitation to do so; restates ideas or meanings and frequently distorts it in the process. First get original speaker to confirm without embarrassing or putting them on the spot. Then pass the “talking stick” to the interpreter for their own point of view.


Jumps into the discussion and cuts off someone else’s comments; acts impatient, too excited, or concerned that own ideas will not be acknowledged. Stop them immediately to protect the source; always get back to them but do not allow them to interrupt; they will learn.


Uses credentials, age, seniority, etc, to argue a point; focuses group attention on opinion and status as opposed to the real issue. Often a supervisor or manager; write it down to satisfy and challenge them about relevancy to the holarchy and for evidence.


Arrives late to meetings, makes a show of arrival, and insists on catching up and stopping the group midstream. Use 50 minute meeting intervals.  Enforce “Be Here Now” ground rule.  Do not interrupt the meeting.  Review during a break, not during the meeting.


Talks too often and too loudly; dominates the discussion; seemingly impossible to shut up; may be someone who has a higher rank than other group members. Record input if on topic. If not, direct conversation away; stand in front of person for a short time; talk to during break.

Negative Nancy

Voiced skepticism, shrouded with genuine concern. Use the “What—So What—Now What” tool.  They may know something significant. Meet them privately before meeting.

Quiet Person

While it is true that we are not going to convert quiet people into aggressive extroverts who dominate a meeting, there are steps that facilitators can take to transform the velocity of contributions from quieter participants. 1. Interview your participants

2. Breakout sessions

3. Non-verbal solicitation

4. Reinforce during break

5. Round-robins & Post-it note approaches


Challenged to stay awake, especially during late afternoon sessions. Ideally, open a window.  Practically, walk around them if possible or lead a quick ergonomic break.


Show up without an invitation Explain and enforce the role of Observer, noting they may speak during breaks.


Constantly whispering during meetings, holding offside conversations; upstages facilitator or session leader, as well as other group members. Hence, standing close to the whisperer(s) will stop their conversation.  Enforce one conversation at a time with the entire group.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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