When someone on your organizational team interferes with progress, it can be tempting to label them as a troublemaker and dismiss them. Labeling is not helpful and gives you an excuse to do nothing.
Rather than thinking of these people as problems, think of them as valuable contributors who are using disruptive and reactive behaviors to meet their otherwise unmet needs. Your best strategy is to address problematic behaviors in private. The following list of the top ten most common disruptive behaviors can help you spot patterns, meet needs, and skillfully redirect disruptors.
Grandstanding is talking dramatically about an idea for much longer than is useful. Even though the passionate grandstander may have good intentions, they can bring out the worst in others. In this situation, redirect the group by calling on the person who has spoken the least and set a time limit for everyone for sharing.
Sometimes the grandstander is actually insecure and craves attention and recognition. To ease this tension, grab their good ideas and give them an extra dose of validation.
Sidewinders take the conversation off track. Often, they bring up things out of order, talk too long, or get lost in detail. Unfortunately, if you don’t manage them, their lack of discipline can spread like a virus.
To manage serious sidewinding, let the group know that you will set time limits for sharing and you’ll expect them to write down their thoughts before speaking. Another trick is to use hand signals to communicate when sharing should conclude. Let the group know this is a polite way to be efficient without interruptions.
- Train Wreckers
Train wreckers are those who go along in the beginning, but then bring up points late in the discussion that should have been brought up earlier, effectively throwing the “train off the track.” You can prevent this by setting a ground rule up front: no one is allowed to express concerns if concerns were not voiced earlier in a proposal’s life cycle.
When train wrecking becomes a habit, the person may be enjoying the spotlight. Talk with this individual one on one and ask that they be more mindful of the right timing for objections.
Hermits are quiet participants who tend to sit silently. Frequently, we allow this behavior, believing that if someone has something to share, they will speak up. Never assume that the quiet people have nothing to share. More often than not, the hermits are sitting on great ideas and are astute observers of the group.
Set expectations that everyone must contribute and often ask for the person who has spoken the least to lead the next point of discussion. On a break, it can be helpful to ask the hermit for their observations and validate their feelings.
Conspirators are politically savvy players who lobby privately before and after meetings to get their needs met. You know you have a conspirator in the mix when every time you reconvene, the tone of the group has shifted, and whatever alignment you have achieved has started to unravel.
To manage conspirators, set ground rules up front about where and when discussions should happen. You can also meet with the conspirators and discuss why they aren’t expressing themselves in meetings. Let them know dissent is welcome. True alignment can only happen if everyone is transparent, even if this slows things down.
Sometimes you have participants who are just flat-out disinterested and check out. These flatliners can suck the energy out of the room. Whenever possible, I recommend making your alignment meetings optional, not mandatory, to avoid forcing flatliners to attend.
This behavior occurs for a number of reasons: people don’t feel well, or are close to retirement, or don’t feel connected, or don’t have a role to play. Have a private conversation with the flatliner to acknowledge their value and mine for deeper issues. And sometimes it is better to excuse flatliners than to insist that they participate.
Ghosts are invited participants who don’t show up with no explanation. Ghosts can set a precedent that it’s okay to skip meetings. This passive-aggressive behavior can also lead people to think that you didn’t invite them or value their opinions.
If you have a ghost on your hands, confirm that they got the invitation or if they simply elected not to come. Let them know that their input matters and if they still opt out, they should share their reasons with the group. If they are just too busy to attend, they should send a surrogate in their place.
Curmudgeons are doubters who feel they have to point out flaws and risks for the good of the group. Having a curmudgeon in your group can feel like having a sandbag in your hot air balloon. They often lack awareness that their communication is always negative and never positive.
Curmudgeonly behavior should be allowed until it becomes contagious. If you notice crankiness spreading, take a break and try to lighten the mood. During the break, check-in with the curmudgeon to let them know that their opinions are valued, but that their edginess is not constructive.
Flip-floppers are players who are hard to pin down. At one meeting, they see things one way; the next, another way. Instead of voicing their opinions openly, they tend to agree with whoever spoke last. While they may seem positive, it’s likely that they have a fear of disapproval.
A good strategy to prevent flip-flopping is to ask them to express their views first when asking for feedback. If the behavior persists, be sure to check in with the flip-flopper privately. It can be helpful to ask questions to help them shore up their views without being swayed by influencers.
Perfectionists seek the perfect solution to every problem. They can help raise standards, but they can also bog the group down with overanalysis or excessive detail. One way to keep perfectionistic behaviors in check is to explicitly set a lower bar. Let people know that there are no bad ideas and no perfect solutions. Using expressions like this can redirect perfectionists to seek practical solutions that will work to meet the current needs.
This article was adapted from the book The Art of Alignment A Practical Guide to Inclusive Leadership written by Patty Beach. Have you read?
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