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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:

How to Manage a Problem Person During Meetings

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.


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’.

People Principles

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.


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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