What we can learn from meeting rebels

The thoughts here are inspired by a recent LinkedIn conversation started by Myriam Hadnes. We’ve talked about the complainers, the rebels in meetings - the ones who question the next activity, the purpose of the meeting, the purpose of the current question etc. And it’s hard for us as facilitators to cope with them. Because they may introduce uncertainty into what we’re trying to do.

Luckily there are some patterns to use when it comes to “complicated” individuals in meetings:

Check your own stance

  • When there is resistance, there is energy. There might be valid points behind the moaning. Try to unpack the gift and learn from it.
  • While it might be an understandable reaction to see the behavior as being against you as a person, it’s not. It’s against your actions in the scenario, it may be against your role in the setting. While it might sound personal, more often it’s not.
  • Maybe it’s part of the groan zone you’re going through with the group, hence it might be even helpful to eventually create valuable outcome.

This is the individual reflection zone of you as the facilitator. Let’s come to preventive actions. Actions that either support the emergence of healthy conversations or pull the focus away from you as the facilitator.

Preventive actions

  • Have team agreements, meeting agreements or core commitments. They ensure that common behaviors are agreed on in advance of the situation. Put the accountability into the hands of the group to live these agreements.
  • Have a meeting invitation with purpose and expected outcome. Have a meeting agenda, agree on it. Create as much clarity as possible in advance, so you can create a safe space for you and the group when the going gets tough.
  • Clarify the role of the participant with the autonomy for a Protocol Check, an Intention Check, a Pass or Check Out.

OK, now we’ve done everything to let the meeting run smooth and still, during the meeting the unexpected happens. Well, we’re still with human beings. So, be prepared to be surprised. Patterns what to do in the moment:

Acting in the moment

  • Invite the complicated individual(s) to help the agreements are met. At least she may focus to live the agreements by herself, at best she may help the group to live the agreements, taking the burden to remind participants from the facilitator.
  • Invite her to be a temporary co-facilitator. Taking responsibility for the process to guide the group to an outcome might meet a need of the individual to be valuable, to have influence.
  • Ask her to be an observer if there is resistance to a specific activity. Often, she is interested in the topic itself but resists to the structure of the activity. As an observer she can play an important role for the learning of the group by sharing her observations in a debrief.
  • If you are working as a facilitator pair you may even do parallel activities, temporarily taking the complicated individual(s) out of the group and meet their needs with a more acceptable activity.
  • As a facilitator you may Ask for Help. “How can I serve the group to reach…?”
  • It’s often a good idea to make a break, calming the minds with a coffee/tea.
  • Play the habit guardian and add more complaints to her complaints. (by Thomas Lahnthaler)
  • Invite the individual to do an Intention Check, Pass or Check Out from the meeting. The law of mobility sometimes needs to be actively enforced by the host of the meeting.

Wow, good to see that we are not helpless in difficult situations in meetings. I’m curious to learn what patterns you are using in similar scenarios.

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