A: Bullying should not be tolerated, so all the other participants should be prepared to intervene to support the person being bullied and to rebuke the manager doing the bullying. If the manager is more senior to all the other attendees, you should still be prepared to point out that the bullying behaviour is not acceptable.
A: The first point is that if you ignore someone’s feelings, you’re likely to make things worse. And although an obvious response might be to call for a time-out, this might not be the best solution.
You need to recognise what sort of emotions have surfaced: happiness or sadness, anxiety or excitement, fear or confidence, anger or serenity. You also need to consider your own and others’ emotional responses to the situation – does it make you feel uncomfortable and how are the others coping? Is anyone else taking command of the situation and, if so, do you feel that there intervention is appropriate? How you deal with this will depend on your interpersonal skills and experience.
A: Here are a few points that are worth noting:
- Cultural differences are many-layered, from the superficial to people’s deepest assumptions and attitudes
- Different cultures can mean different attitudes to people, relationships, language, time, achievement and the environment – almost all the things that can affect meetings!
- Understanding cultural differences is the first and most important step in avoiding potential problems
- Respecting cultural differences and developing empathy for other cultures (which necessarily includes a better understanding of your own culture) should enable you to work more effectively in cross-cultural environments
A: If someone takes too long to make their point, it’s usually best to be fairly direct and say something like “That’s really interesting, but can you summarise so we discuss the implications?” or “OK, I understand, let’s see if anyone else has an opinion on this” or “That’s great, what does everyone else think?”.
A: You need to confront this behaviour and try to find out WHY someone appears to be malicious – they might not be aware that this is the effect of their behaviour. If this doesn’t work, you may need to ask the person to leave, or suggest that to the chair. You may even need to ask the chair to suspend the meeting.
A: A ‘talking stick’ (or other similar token) can be a useful tool – only the person holding the ‘talking stick’ is permitted to speak.
If you are trying to establish a new meeting group, this can be a technique that works well, at least for a while. You will probably find that the usefulness of the ‘talking stick’ declines as the group members becomes more familiar with each other.
A: For in-person meetings room layout can be very important, particularly for larger meetings.
One of the critical factors is the seating arrangement. A circular arrangement conveys an impression of equality amongst the participants. Having a lectern or desk in front of rows of seats confers power onto the person occupying it. To a lesser extent, the person at the head of a rectangular table has an implied higher status. Long tables mean a half the attendees can’t see each other well and can be a barrier to communication. Separate tables might help collaboration around a table but tends to break the meeting into separate groups. A horseshoe arrangement can be effective provided everyone is seated round the outside.
Which arrangement you can choose may be limited the size and shape of the room. Other factors that you should take into account are lighting, acoustics and ventilation.
A: Understanding cultural differences is the first, and probably most important, step in avoiding potential conflict. The chair will need to respect any cultural differences and have empathy for the various cultures represented.
A: Usually the best way to deal with a contentious issue is to confront the problem and not avoid it.
This can be difficult and uncomfortable, and one of the main will be the feelings of those involved. So, you may need to confront risky interpersonal issues and doing this effectively is a skill most people have to learn and develop. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from the other attendees.
A: This can be a problem, particularly if there are no agreed ground rules for the meeting.
The chair is nominally the person who should run the meeting. If the chair seems unwilling and/or unable to control the meeting when a third party tries to take control, it is the responsibility of the other attendees to support the chair and regain a sense of order. If this is not successful (and depending on the rules of the organisation), it might be appropriate to adjourn the meeting and reconvene when there is a consensus on how to proceed.
A: Depending on the group’s culture (and any formal protocols), the other participants could agree to appoint someone else to chair the meeting in the meantime.
A: You need to explain this right at the outset.
It will help if you can explain why the subject is private / sensitive and, if you can, let people know when it can be discussed publicly (for example, after an official announcement has been made).
A: First check you have the right access credentials and try again ensuring you’ve entered the details correctly. You also need to check you have a good internet / phone connection and there isn’t a technical problem with your set-up.
If you still can’t get in, contact the meeting organiser by another means to enquire whether there is a general problem.
A: Check that you have booked the room and, assuming you have, you are entitled to interrupt and politely explain that you have booked a meeting there. You may need to negotiate with the occupants about how quickly they can vacate the room.
A: Much the same as you would at any time during a meeting. It would help if you set expectations or ground rules about being concise and staying on topic at the start of the meeting.
If someone starts going on for too long, it’s usually best to be fairly direct and say something like “OK, I understand, let’s hear what xxxx thinks” or “That’s great, what does everyone else think?”, or if the speaker is going off topic “Can we get back to the agenda and if there’s time at the end we can discuss this point then”.
A: This is the sort of thing you shouldn’t be too prescriptive about. It depends very much on the context: what sort of news, what sort of meeting, and who is attending? Also, your personal style and preferences need to be taken into account.
The advantages of giving bad news at the start of the meeting are that it gets it out of the way, puts everyone on an even footing, restricts speculation, and (hopefully) allows people to focus on the purpose of the meeting.
The disadvantages are that people get diverted into discussing the ramifications of the news and are distracted from the meeting because they are wondering what it means for them.
A: The style of the meeting is probably not the most important factor. Rather the culture of the group and/or the personal style of the chair (or sometimes the organiser) should be the deciding factor in how to commence the meeting.
However, if it’s a new group, you should pay more attention to introductions, objectives and setting expectations than you would for a group that has met several times before.
A: The most obvious point is not to decide (and preferably not even discuss) the topic this person is required for. So some re-jigging of the agenda may be required.
A: The main way to deal with an ‘elephant in the room’ (a problem or issue that people don’t want to acknowledge or discuss) is for the chair to ensure that the problem is acknowledged and given due consideration.
If the chair seems unwilling to do this, any attendee who is particularly concerned about the issue should bring it up.
A: Body language is important at all stages of a meeting, which is a key reason why in-person meetings are often superior to virtual meetings.
A: The first thing to mention is to ensure you have prepared properly, including inviting the right attendees, choosing a good venue and/or suitable technology, and issuing joining instructions and an agenda.
Other things to get the meeting off to a good start could include:
- Clearly setting out the objectives for the meeting
- Introducing all the participants or, preferably, getting them to introduce themselves
- Running through the agenda
- Checking everyone has received any documents issued in advance
- Nominating people to the roles of chair, time-keeper, note-taker, scope-monitor and any session presenters (or, if already appointed, checking that everyone knows who is doing what)
- If it’s a new group, having some sort of ice-breaker
A: The biggest differences between in-person and virtual meetings (assuming the technology works well in the latter) are the difficulty in picking up body language cues, and the small time lags that can lead to (unintentional) talking over others in the virtual world. Allowances need to be made for these problems.
Hybrid meetings can be more problematic, as those in the room often carry on ‘as normal’ and forget to take account of their virtual colleagues. The chair therefore needs to pay special attention to the virtual attendees and ensure they can make full contributions.
A: If some attendees are not familiar with brainstorming, it is worth giving them a brief explanation with the invitation. It is also worth reminding everyone at the start of the meeting of the basic rules for brainstorming (freewheel; suspend judgement; the more ideas the better; capture every idea; and build on ideas previously proposed).
A: Quite often when more junior people are invited to meetings with those senior in the hierarchy, the juniors benefit in terms of exposure and learning from the more experienced people.
Most senior people will make some allowances for the relative lack of experience of their junior colleagues and be supportive of their development. It therefore follows that such mixed hierarchy meetings will tend to run at the level of the most senior attendees.
A: In general, the meeting organiser should determine which app to use. Your organisation may also have some guidelines or standards that apply. If this still remains a problem for some attendees, then tactful negotiation is required – most people will be able to come to an agreement following a calm discussion.