When They Talk *Too* Much – Facilitating Planning Sessions

A business colleague recently asked for some advice on how to handle people in meetings – in this case, strategic planning sessions – that dominate the conversation. It’s a common problem and, I’d venture to guess, that any of you reading this have been involved in a situation where this has occurred.

Here are some of the suggestions I shared:

  • At the outset, start your first meeting by developing a list of “ground rules” that the group brainstorms and submits. You may have your own items in mind and can bring them up if others in the group don’t. The group reaches consensus on the list, agrees to follow the rules and, most importantly, gives each other permission to let group members know if they’re not following the rules as the team continues to meet.
  • For certain topics you might give the group a bit of time to think about their input/response – ask them to “jot down” their thoughts and then call on them in a roundtable format. If someone attempts to dominate when it’s not their turn, just politely say something like: “I’m sorry _____; I’d like to give everybody a chance to respond and we’ll come to you soon (or, we’ve already heard your input).”
  • Consider establishing a time limit on comments. This is done at board meetings, public hearings, etc., sometimes to ensure that everybody will have a chance to speak.
  • If the person dominating the discussion tends to repeat the same points over and over again, seemingly to assert influence over the group – write the point down on a flipchart to visually illustrate that you “got it” and it’s now time to move on.
  • Divide the larger group into smaller groups for specific discussions. Assign each group a facilitator whose role involves *not* contributing to the discussion, but managing the conversation and taking notes. Assign the dominating individual to this role.
  • A “fishbowl” discussion can be a good way to “force” the louder members to listen to other perspectives. This works well if you have an issue/topic that has generated disagreement or different perspectives. Divide the team into groups based on their perspectives. Each group gets a chance to be “in the fishbowl” — they move to the center of the room and discuss their point of view. All others who are “outside the fishbowl” must listen, without comment, to their perspectives. Then the next group, and so on.
  • Talk to the dominating person outside of the meeting – indicate that you appreciate his/her input but that you’re concerned that less vocal or more introverted members won’t feel as comfortable sharing their thoughts. Ask for the person’s ideas on how to best handle this – thank them for any efforts they might make to pave the way for others to have more input.

Just a few thoughts on techniques that can work to minimize the negative impact of an overly dominant meeting participant. Other suggestions?

(Interested inĀ 10 tips for 7 Steps of Strategic Planning — 70 tips in all? Available here.)

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