A problem person is a meeting distraction and their message is ineffective because of some characteristic that gets in the way of clearly communicating.
“Politikos” — Nature of the Problem Person
The term ‘Politikos’ means ‘the science of people. You deal more ably with participants as you gain more experience. However, there is a certain degree of comfort in recognizing that there are some common patterns of behavior that are likely to occur. Keep one thing in mind, however; participants cause problems only for a certain time. Often a participant causing a problem becomes productive in a different situation. Never label a person permanently as a problem person.
Identifying Problems with the Problem Person
You identify participants displaying problems because they generally disrupt the session. Sometimes, however, they don’t participate. When you have a problem person in a meeting, their contribution remains unclear because some characteristic gets in the way of communication, for example:
To deal with the people on the ends of the curve (ie, the outliers), assume that people have good intentions and focus your energy on discovering what is causing the difficulty. In other words, identify the problem—do not highlight the problem person (or, person with the problem).
Motivation of People
People are motivated by:
- Need to control (power motivation)
- They rebel against a loss of control.
- Turf issues arise.
- Need to excel (achievement motivation)
- People don’t want to look bad in a group.
- All participants are speaking publicly—public speaking scares many people.
- Need to bond (affiliation motivation)
- Attacks and win-lose situations affect participants’ ability or willingness to bond.
Managing the Problem Person
Determine what is motivating a participant you are dealing with. Once you understand their motivation, use the following sequence of guidelines to deal with them.
- First determine and correct the cause of the problem person
- Mitigate the symptom if the cause cannot be corrected by:
- Talking with the participant during a break
- Enlist help from the business partner or executive sponsor.
- Last resort—have the problem person removed.
There are two exceptions to the rules above—the business or technical partner and the executive sponsor. None of these people can be removed. You cannot go over their heads, therefore:
Partners • Set expectations before the session. Ensure that the partners know what they want—if not help them. Never argue with them in the workshop—they are your clients. Do not do their job.
Executive • The executive sponsor is most likely dominating because many think it is their job. If the session is not for policy, ask the executive to leave. If the session is policy, never allow the executive to dominate since they are but a participant in the meeting and all participants have an equal voice. Talk to the executive but always remain the ‘process police person’.
Following are guiding principles for dealing with people (all based on “Treat others as you wish to be treated”):
- Never embarrass people, especially in public. People . . .
Note of Caution
As a result of allowing a win-lose situation to occur, you will cause problems. Latecomers, early leavers, dropouts, etc, are often manifestations of their anger at losing. Therefore, correct the win-lose situation to make each problem person more productive.
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