I was in one of those business networking meetings recently. It was a nice event, a small group of pleasant business people going through the agenda. We were doing a focus on one fellow’s (Alex) business with the goal of increasing our understanding of what he does so we can refer business to him. For a few minutes it went well, then the disruption occurred. Another guy, let’s call him John, started to drill down . He asked more and more probing questions. And then began dispensing advise, “you ought to, here is what you can do, etc… “
A buzzer might have gone off! We could feel the shift in the group as everyone’s attention exited the room and shifted to whatever was next on their to-do lists. John’s motivation was guided not by the desire to get Alex referrals, but rather by his desire to ‘one-up’ Alex by demonstrating to everyone how he knew more about how to make his work better. Basically John was saying “hey, look-it me everyone!” Well, everyone did, and he appeared the fool and submarined the value for the group.
This is a killer dynamic that happens frequently. Watch for it in yourself and others. Here are two simple things you can do:
- When you are running the meeting, state the desired outcome and keep folks focused on it. When they get off track with poor questions or advice-giving, REFOCUS THEM.
- When you are about to open your mouth, consider whether your contribution will add value to the goal or just waste others time and become annoyed with you.
As Winston Churchill told us: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ”
Question from a leader: So, Scott, if you are not running the meeting and you are not the offending “John”, is it acceptable to be the one to help get things back on track, which may be the inclination of some of us? What if your boss (or someone else senior to you in the context of the meeting) is the offending “John”? Any suggestions for the control freaks among us?
Thanks for the question Tom. What constitutes an ‘appropriate’ response depends on the circumstances, context and relationships. At the meeting I referred to in my blog , I was the guest and it was not my place to intervene. Seems in many work contexts, where there is familiarity, where the work task/goal is clear, where there is a presumption of operating as a (high performing) team, and where everyone at the table is expected to act as a leader, an intervention would be appropriate. A gentle reminder such as, “I thought our focus here is to _____, does that question/comment help us to get there?” (then listen briefly to the mea culpa, excuse, or rationale) and kindly refocus the discussion, or capitulate if it is well rationalized. Another action that would help is to refresh the groundrules (which would discourage such behavior) , preferably at the beginning of the meeting, and also during it as needed.