10 Tips for Dealing with People Who Dominate Your Meetings

At some point, you have participated in a meeting where one person clearly dominates the discussion. That person may have even been you. While folks who tend to dominate meetings are usually smart and passionate, their domination often negatively impacts the group. It squelches other perspectives needed. It reduces the level of commitment from others. It leads to frustration and negative feelings. So how you respond? Here are 10 tips:

Before the meeting:

1. Set Groundrules: A simple groundrule is that “Everyone participates: Share the Floor”. This sets up an expectation that you want to balance participation. Occasionally enforce this groundrule during your meeting.

2. Develop an Agenda: Include estimated amounts of time for each item. Appoint a timekeeper to help the group stay on track during the meeting.

3. Understand the Source: Do they have an inflated sense of self-importance? Do they just like to hear themselves talk? Are they oblivious? Are they trying to control things? Knowing this helps you respond.

During the meeting:

4. Listen: Oftentimes when folks dominate, it’s because they don’t feel heard. After they speak, quickly summarize what you hear. Another way to show you hear what they are saying is to write down a quick summary of their input on poster paper.

5. Vary Your Meeting Structure: Use alternatives to the single group discussion. Meet in small-groups. Have people work in groups of two. Here’s a list of more ideas.

6. Use the “Bike Rack”: Sometimes known as the “Parking Lot” or “Ice-bucket”, this is a place you can put items that come up that you don’t have time to discuss at your meeting.

7. Ask for Input from Others: By asking something like “do other people have an opinion on this” or “who haven’t we heard from”, you create a space for others to participate.

8. Don’t use negative language: Though it may be tempting, don’t say, “Shut up, you’ve been talking too much”. Be polite when you choose to intervene.

9. Check-in During a Break: Approach the person privately and give them feedback in a way that encourages them to listen more during the meeting.

10. Evaluate the meeting: As a group, take some time to evaluate your meeting and mention this issue if you feel it is of concern.

Someone within your group’s leadership needs to step up and take on some of these responsibilities. Ideally, it’s more than one person. If you never speak up during a meeting, then you are partly enabling the behavior of someone who won’t shut up. In fact, if you don’t speak much during meetings, people will usually listen when you talk. In addition to these options, you can also bring in an outside facilitator who can create a space for more balanced participation.

I’m curious to hear what has worked for you when it comes to effectively working with folks who dominate your meetings? What hasn’t worked? I welcome your thoughts. Thanks.

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About Ron Milam

I work to build the capacity of organizations and collaborative change initiatives in Southern California through facilitation, training and coaching. I specialize in the areas of organization development, collaboration, strategic planning, team building, board development and fundraising. Since 2005, I have served over 145 organizations.
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