Ringmaster Rules for ‘Derailers’

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Alison Kemp, CEO and founder of interpersonal skills training firm Switchvision, outlined five types of people who undermine meetings and how to prevent them from causing too much damage.

THE WAFFLER gives too much detail or gets off the point entirely, either to distract from the topic or because he or she can’t find the point. Get wafflers back on track without interrupting by asking them to step away, outline the issues at a hand and return with a clearer focus.

THE MUTTERER makes under-the-breath comments. Asking “Was there something you wanted to add?” is a way to call mutterers out and get them contributing more openly.

THE GOT-TO-GO PERSON always leaves early. If that person has a good reason for it, minimize disruption by sitting the worker by the door. If he or she feels irrelevant, you might not need that worker at that meeting or should do a better job incorporating his or her perspective.

THE SECRET TEXTER will correspond via smartphone throughout an entire meeting. Leading by example — announce that you’ll be turning off your phone at the beginning of a meeting —  will send the signal that in-meeting messaging isn’t acceptable.

THE WHISPERER holds personal conversations with other attendees during a presentation. Stand by offenders and direct your voice down to them. If that’s not enough, call whisperers out. They’ll be embarrassed, but they’ll also stop having side conversations.