my coworker keeps hijacking team meetings

A reader writes:

I am a department head at a small financial firm. Recently I began hosting weekly meetings for our 25-person business team, which is comprised of other department heads and their teams. For the first couple of weeks, things were going relatively smoothly, but recently one department head has been hijacking every meeting.

He shows up late, he stands during the meeting instead of sitting (which isn’t really a problem other than the fact that it is distracting and odd), and he interrupts people’s presentations to interject his own thoughts, opinions, and agendas. One of his team members was presenting last week, and he butted in and droned on for several minutes. These are only supposed to be five-minute presentations and are an opportunity for all of our team members to be heard, not just the outspoken department heads.

I can see people slumping in their chairs and disengaging every time he pipes up. The real irony here is that when it was his turn to present he didn’t even remember that he had signed up for that day, so he showed up unprepared. He said that he could just “wing it” and I had to explain to him in front of everyone that I was going to reschedule him so that he could have some time to thoughtfully prepare. He is disrespectful at every turn!

To top things off, this week at the end of the meeting while I was dismissing everyone and thanking them for their time and attention, he interrupted me mid-sentence and stopped everyone from leaving to make an announcement. The announcement was only directed towards his team of four and wasn’t even relevant to the vast majority of people in the room.

He is my peer, not my subordinate. How do I address this with him? Do I speak to him privately or just shut it down mid-meeting? I don’t want there to be tension that will make everyone in the meeting uncomfortable, but he is being too disruptive to ignore. These meetings are supposed to be fun and energizing and he is sucking the life out of them. Help!

I would do two things now, and have a third thing in your mind as possible additional step if you still need it.

1. At the start of the next meeting, set some expectations for the whole group about how you want the meetings to operate. Normally I don’t recommend talking to the whole group about a problem with just one person, but in this case the group is likely to appreciate what you’re doing — and really, it’s a useful thing to do with any new or new-ish group anyway. For example, you might lay out guidelines like:
* “We’re going to start promptly on time, so if you do need to be late, please come in quietly since discussions may already be underway.”
* “I want to ask that people not interrupt other people’s presentations, and hold any questions until the end.”
* I want to make sure we’re sharing air time across the group — if you’ve spoken a lot lately, give others a chance to weigh in.”

2. Be assertive about managing the meeting while it’s going on. This is your meeting, after all, and it’s totally appropriate for you to do this — in fact, it’s your obligation to do this, as it’s part of what it means to run a meeting well. Specifically:
* Don’t delay the meeting because he’s late. Wait a minute or two past the start time and then start. If he arrives late, don’t backtrack to repeat for him what’s already been covered; that’s just rewarding his bad behavior and wasting the time of the people who arrived on time.
* If he interrupts a presentation, you interrupt him and say, “Actually, let’s hold questions for the end so that Fergus can have his full five minutes to present.”
* If he’s droning on, jump in and say something like,“I’m going to jump in here because I want to make sure we have time to get through the whole agenda” or “Let’s actually table that for now so that we don’t get too far off Topic X.”
* If he does any more end-of-meeting announcements that are only for his team of four, say, “I don’t think we need to keep the whole room for this, so everyone else can adjourn.”

Also, at the start of each meeting, be clear about the agenda and how much time you’ve allotted for each part (“I’ve set aside 15 minutes to talk about our new llama-gram initiative and then Valentina, Bob, and Hercules are each going to present for five minutes on various elements of it. We’ll have 10 minutes for questions and will wrap up at 1:45.” This will give your coworker even less excuse for derailing things, and if he does, it’ll be even easier for you to use some of the the lines above.

Doing this is not rude. Not doing it would actually be rude to the other people there, because this guy is infringing on everyone’s time, and you’re the person charged with making the meeting go smoothly. I can guarantee you that other people are looking to you to do this, are hoping that you will, and will be frustrated if you don’t. (In fact, it might help you to look at this stuff as not optional; it’s part of your job as the person running the meetings.)

3. If you do the things above and the problem is continuing, then it might makes sense to talk with your coworker privately outside of the meeting. You could say something like, “I really want to ensure that these meetings have relatively equal air time for everyone (or insert whatever your goal is). I know you have lots of input to share, but I want to ask you hold most of your thoughts and questions until the end if there’s time left, because I need to make sure that others are heard too and that we don’t get too far off our agenda.”

But really, by doing #1 and #2 above, you might not need #3 at all.

Also, your coworker is a boor.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP, in following AAM’s excellent advice, please let go of the fear about making this uncomfortable or tense. THEY ALREADY ARE. All you are doing is handing that discomfort and tension right back to the guy who put it there. And believe me, taking charge of your meetings will make them much more relaxed and comfortable for everybody else.

    1. starsaphire*

      Yes! He is the one being rude and making things uncomfortable. I am willing to bet that *at least* two people will come up to you after the meeting and thank you the first time you stop the derailment.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      Oh yes. You will be a hero.

      I’m grateful we rarely have team meetings more than once a month. There’s something about meetings that makes otherwise likable coworkers into the most annoying people ever. (Or makes me into the most irritable person ever. But either way!) Like the coworker who whispers to me while the presenter is talking to ask me questions about what they’re saying. I don’t know! I’m hearing this for the first time too! Shut up and we can both learn! Or the one who says “yes I think everyone will benefit from this anecdote” and then gives a super long detailed of being given wrong phone numbers and who they had to call to try to straighten out the situation. NO. I would benefit from leaving this meeting and eating lunch.

      But this is your meeting, OP, you have the power!

    3. Artemesia*

      So this. Running a meeting well is not easy and particularly not when some boorish clod violates its norms. So you need to set those norms aggressively. This is a common problem in classes where one person can easily hog the time and derail the agenda and one of the skills professors and teachers have to learn is how to gracefully deal with this. I hope when you take control of your meeting that you won’t have to go to level 3 and deal with him one on one. With classroom boors 1 and 2 are usually enough along with having a ‘parking lot’ to write down questions or issues to deal with later so things don’t go to far afield. Alison gave great advice here. Your participants will love you for doing this and brava if you can get it done with 1 and 2 and don’t have to talk with Hoggy McHogface.

      1. AcidMeFlux*

        I’m a teacher in adult language teaching and I totally second these suggestions. I’d add a very basic but time-specific agenda written on a whiteboard It works for me every time.

        1. Pineapple Incident*

          Nice suggestion- written on a board makes the meeting agenda and any time breakdown less negotiable than if it’s spoken. That way Mr. Obnoxious can’t just say “Oh I forgot you said that” when you chime in to remind him about the agenda, and you can refer to it if you have to steer the conversation back to another speaker/item.

          1. Paquita*

            We have a team meeting monthly. We go over any changes to procedures and department guidelines, a calendar review for the next month, and anything else management puts on the agenda. The agenda is printed and passed out to all. A room is reserved for the meeting, usually for an hour. A timekeeper is designated to keep us on track every 15 minutes. Works well for us.

      2. Myrin*

        Absolutely! I think I’ve talked before about a class I attended a few semesters ago where one guy in his seventies would drone on and on about something he’s experienced in his life which had nothing at all to do with the topic. I was fed up with it in the first week but powered through until about halfway through the semester. I spoke up several times because he annoyed the heck out of me (and other students!) but he would just go on five minutes later as if nothing had happened. I actually thought about going to my teacher about it (who was admiringly good at having a reasonable discussion with The Talker but horribly bad at actually shutting him down!) but in the end, I just stopped going to that class. Which was a shame, because I liked it and would have loved to learn more about the topic but, well.

        (Hilariously, that same guy shared a lecture with me last semester and routinely fell asleep during it. But once, he started actually snoring and so loudly at that, that the whole room could clearly hear it and my teacher had trouble breathing because he was trying so hard not to laugh. Which again reminded me that these people’s behaviour only serves to out them as the fool they already are.)

        1. afiendishthingy*

          Several of my friends in college referred to a classmate as “Douche Paul.” They each had different classes with him in which he would raise his hand and say something to the effect of “This reminds me of when I was backpacking through the Himalayas…” and then tell a long story about how cool he was. I never even had a class with him, but 10 years later he is still Douche Paul in my mind.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              We had That Student too. I once caught two female professors hiding from him in the women’s bathroom because they knew it was their turn for a lengthy and pointless lunchtime visit.

              1. Anna*

                I did a reading in conference with a small group for my senior project for one of my BAs. There was this guy I’d heard about but never had a class with until then. He was notorious! The entire department was so tired of having him in the program, they changed the grading parameters for the class. It started out the traditional A, B, C, etc. They changed it to Pass/Fail. If they had done the traditional grades, he would have failed and not graduated, so by switching it they passed him right out of their collective hair.

          1. peanut butter kisses*

            Our campus one was named Rusty. He would interrupt his professors on a regular basis to tell them how wrong they were. As a freshman, he interrupted his female professor whose doctoral topic was the subject of the day and told her that she was wrong and that as a woman, she couldn’t possibly understand what she was talking about.

              1. Anna*

                Yes. Professors have a lot of leeway about who is in their class and they can absolutely remove someone from the rolls.

            1. Callie*

              I saw this ALL THE TIME in graduate school–men interrupting female classmates or a female professor to pontificate on whatever they felt like, or to play devil’s advocate, or interject irrelevant personal experiences or opinions. They never did this to male students or professors.

              I don’t put up with this in my classroom. It drives me insane. Irritatingly, when I don’t put up with it, I get poor student evaluations from the people who aren’t allowed to interrupt constantly, but then I get great evaluations from the people who are glad I prevented the pontificating, so it evens out.

            2. So Very Anonymous*

              There was one in my graduate program who informed our professor — a Marxist — that “Marx wasn’t really about class.” OK then.

            3. Artemesia*

              There are always grad students like that — we had an undergrad, a freshman like that. At a parents event we met his father who told us that ‘we had a lot to learn from his son.’ (who didn’t fall far from the tree obviously.)

            4. BeenThere*

              In the next open thread please tell us the full story. I now have a fantasy running in my head of what I would do in her shoes.

          2. Anonsie*

            That really rolls off the tongue, like it’s just a generic term for someone who hogs meeting or class time with their own business. It sounds like a borrowed word from French or something, too. “That guy is a real duchepaule.”

            1. Mookie*

              Yes. Saying it with some kind of all purpose foreign-to-whomever-your-audience-is accent heightens the absurdity.

          3. Lies, damn lies, and...*

            In a polisci class early 2000s: “Last night on The Daily Show…” Same guy every time, made decent points but really needed more diverse sources. Or at least more than one source.

          4. Turanga Leela*

            In law school parlance, a person who raises his/her hand a lot is a “gunner.” Some gunners just know the answer and don’t mind volunteering to answer questions. They’re not so bad. The bad gunners raise their hand once or twice every class to talk about their insights into the topic, or raise tangential questions, or talk about their own life experiences.

            Douche Paul sounds like a bad gunner.

        2. Pucksmuse*

          Ugh, a teacher who can’t control a person like this is not a good teacher. She/he might have a wonderful point of view and enormous capacity for communicating the subject matter, but if you can’t manage your classroom, it doesn’t matter much.

          In college, I had a class where the professor, a well respected teacher, speaker, journal contributor in his field passively sat by while an awful pompous “Paul” dominated every class with his opinions most of which were offensive and disturbing that nothing short of most of the class telling him to “SHUT UP!” in unison (which happened quite a few times) would get him to stop. and the teacher did NOTHING, not even when we were yelling, “SHUT UP” at this guy. At the end of the semester, I felt I’d learned very little from the professor, as opposed to at home reading, because the class centered on “whatever Paul decided to talk about that day.” I had a LOT of comments to leave on his faculty evaluation.

          That same year, I had a professor who could level a Paul with one look and a single sentence, “That anecdote does not enrich our discussion of the class material – let’s move along.” and that Paul would never utter another word.

          I say this because I had so much more respect for the professor who shut the Pauls of the world down, because I knew that teacher valued my time and my education.

          1. Artemesia*

            It is tricky because a class will often rally around a douchebag who is put down by the prof. And it is tricky for a woman teacher — they are consistently graded down for being aggressive and less nurturing.

    4. OP*

      Thank you so much! There are some other issues here that are holding me back. He is much older than I am and I am worried about being perceived as bossy or overstepping…but all of this advice has been very empowering!

  2. IT_Guy*

    I’ve had to deal with these kind of issues before, and it really helps to have a printed agenda. Even though it’s old school tech it keeps things on focus. If it’s not on the agenda, just say “Bob, that’s a great idea but it’s not on the agenda, let’s put that in the parking lot and if we have time at the end of the meeting we can address it.”

    This is on of the few cases where hard copy is your friend.

    1. Interviewer*

      If the meeting content varies, or if you rotate presenters each week, it might be useful to distribute an agenda 2-3 days ahead of time, so everyone knows what is to be discussed. You can note approximate times allotted for each agenda item as well.

    2. Noah*

      Yes, agendas for every meeting. I either pull up the agenda on my computer and use the projector or write the agenda topics out on the whiteboard. Printing it would work too, but my office is very anti-paper.

    3. Connie-Lynne*

      For our weekly team meetings, we put an agenda in the wiki. Then, whoever is taking notes that week takes notes directly into the agenda.

      You don’t need hard copy to force people to stick to an agenda, you just need to be able to say “great, we’ll discuss that if we have time, and if we don’t please add it to the agenda for next week.”

  3. Ineloquent*

    You might consider starting a running ‘parking lot’ for ideas that are interesting but off topic (for use in a later meeting or during the Q&A) for the current discussion, and instituting ‘rabbit hole’ rules, for when things go way off topic – basically saying ‘We’re starting to go down a rabbit hole on this, let’s bring it back to the topic of the presentation’.

    1. Artemesia*

      I find it hilarious that 3 out of 5 responders simultaneously suggested the ‘parking lot’.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      The parking lot is, hands-down, the best thing I ever learned in the many, many professional development/quality/excellence/insert your buzzword here meetings I have attended.

      1. Meeeeeeeee*

        I can see how it can be useful, but I actually have a bad experience with it. I worked in a place where the interactions between two departments (one supporting the other) was very disfunctional. We would have meetings to discuss this and try to come to solutions, but any time anybody (from either department) brought up actual issues they were put in the parking lot and then never returned back to. So the meetings basically went like this:
        Manager (running the meeting): “OK, we all need to interact better. We need to work better together.”
        Person from department A: “It is difficult to work together when all requests come in last minute.”
        Manager: “Well, let’s not discuss that right now, let’s put it in the parking lot.”
        Person from department B: “I just don’t understand why it takes so long to grab us a file, I am sitting there with a client, I just need you to grab me a file, but I don’t get it until after the client leaves. This is very frustrating.”
        Manager: “Let’s put a pin in that. We need to work together better.”

        It did not help!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, it’s meant to stop people from derailing a meeting. It’s not going to work if people aren’t willing to discuss the actual topic the meeting was supposed to address. But don’t blame the parking lot for bad drivers. ;-)

        2. Anonsie*

          This has been my experience with both this and the rabbit hole. Everything is in the lot or the hole and nothing worth discussing ever gets discussed.

          This is a problem with the folks running it and not the concepts, obviously, but you can’t introduce these as a way to improve a dysfunctionally run group.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I don’t remember, and I also don’t know what color I am. Shocking, I know.

          1. Annie Moose*

            This reminds me of a teacher I had all the way back in middle school who liked to constantly remind us that she was “highly green and gold”, without ever once actually telling us what that meant or how that was relevant to our lives (or the class). It took me quite awhile to figure out what she was going on about; I’m still not sure why she thought seventh graders would care.

  4. Michelle*

    We have 2 coworkers who do this constantly! Even though I am junior to them, I had to speak up at the last meeting (after they droned on for 20 minutes about things that could have waited) and say “Excuse me, could we wait until the presentation is finished? I know we all are busy and have things to accomplished today, so we don’t want to get pulled into a different discussion. Thanks!” It shut them down from starting a discussion about details that we all did not need to be there for but it happens so much! I wish the big boss would do this at all the meetings! I don’t need to know if there is going to be a bow on the vase and what color, fabric type and which style of bow will be tied, etc.! Just give me the attendee list so I can start the name tags and seating arrangements.

    1. OriginalYup*

      If it helps — I read once that some people approach meetings as working sessions where they want to exit the meeting with more data/clarity/progress/etc, whereas other people approach them as “togetherness time.” Your two coworkers might be in the latter camp, where they view meetings as an opportunity to spend time with people and chit chat and hear lots of different ideas. Whereas the rest of you are there to get stuff done.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        This was my old team. My coworker and I were get in/get out people who wanted a set agenda, meeting goals, and specific outcomes. My boss was the together/team building/fluid session type.

        It was miserable all around.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    Everyone will appreciate you getting a handle on this, OP. There’s really nothing quite as excruciating as sitting through a meeting with a jerk like this hijacking things.

    1. Sean*

      +1 million.

      I have a colleague like this, and I get so annoyed when the person who is running the meeting doesn’t shut it down. It is awful.

      1. Tommy*

        As a side note, I think a slowly escalating “+ arms race” is brewing on AAM. Next time I think of doing a +1, I’m just gonna do a +INFINITY. :-)

    2. OP*

      Thank you! The more I read people’s responses and advice the more I realize that people will probably really appreciate me shutting down this behavior–I’m probably not the only one being really irked by it.

  6. Gene*

    just shut it down mid-meeting? I don’t want there to be tension that will make everyone in the meeting uncomfortable

    I guarantee this won’t make the others uncomfortable. They’ll be silently cheering you. You already see them disengaging when he gets rolling.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      This. The disengaging behavior you are seeing is because people are already uncomfortable.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Plus if there’s any discomfort, it’ll be because of his behavior. Not yours.

  7. Seuuze*

    I am only allowed two cats in my apartment which I share with Bunky and Baby Bear, (or Big Baby). However, I am determined to have a cat someday just so I can name it Fergus. I am thinking about starting
    a “Friends of Fergus” club. Hopefully just to drink and laugh.

  8. Honks*

    One of the organizers of a local Meetup is the MASTER at shutting this down. You say more than you need to by two words, and BOOM “This sounds like it would be a great topic for you to give a talk on next week!” or “Why don’t you two continue this at the bar?” He is my personal hero. I wish my PI had done that at lab meetings in my previous life.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha. One of the women at my women’s circle meeting brought in an article that she wanted to have an impromptu discussion of. We already had a scheduled program, and she kept insisting that her article would only take a few minutes to discuss. People could pass is around and read it (!) and then just spend a little time discussing it. I whipped out my calendar of scheduled presenters for upcoming meetings and asked her to sign up for a spot, and — Lo and behold! — she suddenly lost interest in hijacking the meeting.

      1. Honeybee*

        That is so weird to me…if you already have an article all picked out that you want to discuss and you think it’s going to generate good discussion, why not just sign up for a slot? Why hijack someone else’s meeting to do this?

        1. College Career Counselor*

          I’m guessing it wasn’t about the article/topic it was about CONTROL of the GROUP, with a side of “the rules don’t apply to me” and a dash of Instant Gratification-itis.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          The icing on the cake for me was that her husband had given her the article and told her that it would be a good one for us to discuss. So I gather from that that she didn’t really want to take responsibility for leading the meeting herself; she just wanted to be able to report back to her husband that she had brought up the article in her women’s group.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            And it was a good article that we would do well to discuss; it was a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on the increase in the number of hate groups in the U.S. But we’re not going to preempt the scheduled meeting, and if she wanted to discuss it she should get on the calendar.

  9. Chickaletta*

    Oooh, is your coworker Mark Baum??

    All kidding aside, I’d consider going as far on Alison’s point 1 to list norms/rules as a group. I run orientations for teenagers but you can probably do this for adults also. It works well because Jack is more likely to follow a rule if Jane came up with it instead of me. It creates a sense of group ownership and they’ll often police themselves. I’m also sometimes surprised because they’ll list rules that are more strict than what I would have come up with myself (for example, if someone is caught texting on their phone then they get their phone taken away for the whole day). And of course, having the group list rules/norms takes the onus off you for being a rule maker.

    1. Artemesia*

      Also a great ploy at the beginning of things. I have done this with adult weekend classes I have taught and it also serves for that getting to know you/bonding thing you need at the beginning of intensive class experiences. I’ll bet the meetings hijacked by Hoggy will have lots of participants who can come up with meeting norms if you try doing it this way — as in ‘I have been hearing a lot of frustration about our meetings and so thought we might take a moment to identify some of the rules of the road we want to follow to be sure we get our goals acccomplished and that presenters are able to effectively share their ideas.’

  10. animaniactoo*

    As the person who frequently ends up talking the most in the meeting, I’d like to suggest another strategy as well:

    Redirect to somebody else. “Fergus, do you have the numbers on this?/Is this an issue for you also?/Does that make sense from the standpoint of X that you’re trying to accomplish or can it be incorporated?”

    Often enough, I am the one who is doing a lot of talking and extending the meeting because of one of 2 situations: 1) I know that I am raising a valid concern my co-workers have talked to me about, but I’m raising it as my issue not theirs (because it is also an issue for me, I’m not simply being their mouthpiece). If they’re not willing to speak up when directly asked, there’s a limit to how far I’m going to go after it for myself. 2) This is a repeated issue for me/us, but I don’t have enough information to know that it is being done that way in the service of Y, and if I get filled in on that it helps *me* see if there’s another way to approach it or if it’s a suck it up and deal situation.

    While I’m willing to be shutdown*, even if The Talker isn’t, another benefit of this strategy is that it helps other people get heard on the topic (provided they’re willing to speak up) when they might otherwise hesitate about joining in.

    *My boss will often not shut me down (although she will choose to come back to something rather than continue right then) because she respects that I probably am right that there is an issue that needs to be addressed, or my questions help clarify what the actual issue is.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Especially better is if you can redirect back to the presenter in your situation: “Simon, do you address this point? No? Okay, let’s come back to it after you’re done/Yes? Great, show us what you’ve got.”

    2. AMG*

      This true…depending on how big a deal it is, Parking Lot may help, or ‘Jane, Wakeen and I will take this offline and he larger group know what the resolution is’. That way you still are addressing and staying on track. Hard to know sometimes until you talk about it for a couple of minutes, but if it looks like a larger discussion and/or doesn’t impact everyone, this may help.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP, this doesn’t excuse anything, but the reason this guy can’t zip it is precisely BECAUSE he’s unprepared for the specific task(s) that require a result.  He’s overcompensating big time.  He more of a talker and philosopher than a doer, and those people are the worst in the workplace because they monopolize everyone’s time yet never manage to produce anything.  (I know way more about that personality type than I ever wanted to.)

    As for “winging it,” Bill Clinton is the only person I know of who can effectively “wing it” and keep the audience’s attention and stay on topic.  Everyone else needs a few notes.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I worked for one department head who could wing it at school events at which he had to speak, and when he moved on and another faculty member stepped into his role, it took me one event of his speaking to realize what a rare talent winging it really is. The previous department head had always worked without a script, but after one awkward event of the next department head, I started writing him a script for every school event where he had to speak. Once he had the script, he was good at not sounding overly scripted, but he needed the security of having one.

      1. Artemesia*

        Good point. I always wing it in the sense that while I have a series of talking points planned, I don’t usually work from a script and can pull those talking points together in my head in 5 minutes or so if I am asked to speak later in the meeting. It took me awhile to recognize that this is not something everyone can do and that is was important to be clear on what was needed and to give plenty of advance time to co-workers whom I wanted to address something.

    2. Kristine*

      >He more of a talker and philosopher than a doer, and those people are the worst in the workplace because they monopolize everyone’s time yet never manage to produce anything.

      This is my teammate to a T. He is very invested in convincing others that his ideas are the best and should be implemented, but as soon as his ideas are picked up and turn into a project, he wants nothing to do with them.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Ack, this guy used to be my boss. Worst meetings EVER, and never seemed to do anything.

      2. 2 Cents*

        Wow, this explains one guy in my office to a tee. He thinks he’s only there to think of the ideas, not to execute them. (That’s for the peons!)

        1. Lily Rowan*

          That has always been my dream job. Somehow it seems like it’s mostly men that have it??

        2. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if his resume describes him as a “visionary” or the like.

          (Remember that letter from the inexperienced young man who was indignant that no one would hire him to be “office visionary”?)

    3. CM*

      Ugh, we had someone like this at our organization, who was always ready to dominate the conversation but never ready to raise his hand to take on a project… and when he left, he criticized the entire board for talking too much and not getting enough done!

  12. TMA*

    This might not be an issue for you, but I know that if I were having to be more assertive (something I’m working on in general), I would be a little nervous to use some of the suggestions Alison gave.

    So my additional suggestion would be to practice. I find that whenever I need to have frank and, what I think may be, uncomfortable discussions, I need to practice delivering the lines over and over again plus work through other possible scenarios so that I’m prepared to handle them assertively and professionally.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      When I’m preparing for a conversation that seems out of my comfort zone, I’ll take a walk and play the scenario in my head over and over. There is something about walking around while imagining my various options that really helps me access my best ideas. If I sit down and think about it, the ideas that I come up with are one-dimensional and not very inspired, and often seem like something that someone else would do but not me. For some reason, walking around and mulling it over seems to engage multiple intelligences on more levels, and I’ll come up with a course of action that I can see myself actually doing.

    2. ZenJen*

      ITA with PRACTICE!!! If you’re not used to being so assertive in a 25-person meeting, definitely work on it. Also, make sure you are practicing being professional, because you WILL have to interrupt the hijacker in order to steer the meeting back. Be assertive and confident–what would help me is to ALSO STAND UP. the hijacker the LW is dealing with stands up at those meetings. I’d stand up and be assertive, showing the entire group (not so subtle, but also professional) that I’m leading the meeting, not the hijacker.

    3. OP*

      You hit the nail on the head, TMA! I am not a timid person but this particular department head is a man about 20 years older than me and I am nervous to come off as bossy or make people think that I am stepping out of line. I think practice is a great idea..if I have a script to stick to it will be much less daunting.

  13. 12345678910112 do do do*

    My coworker does this every time. When he starts talking, I hear the word “blowhard” repeating over and over in my head. I also read it as his way of asserting power (he’s been here the longest and you can tell that he doesn’t respect our manager). By showing up late and also drawing attention to his lateness, he is asserting that the meeting starts when he wants it to start and that timeliness is for the lesser beings. By hijacking others’ presentations, he is stating that his is the only voice that matters. By going off topic, he demonstrates that he is controlling the topic of the meeting. By not taking control and stopping the blowhard’s behavior, my manager loses my respect a little more every meeting; I want to take him aside and beg him to shut it down.

  14. OriginalYup*

    I run meetings like a drill sergeant, which helps me to manage rogue attendees like your wayward department head. So this might not fly in your company culture, but I’m super up front about how meetings will operate when run by me:

    – We start and end on time. In fact, we will end early whenever possible.
    – Everyone shows up prepared. I send out agendas, notes, key items well in advance to facilitate this, so don’t dare show up all “What’s this meeting about? I’m not up to speed on Widget Policy, can someone explain?”
    – Minutes and notes will always follow. I state up front who is taking notes and when they’ll distributed, so that people don’t feel pressured to write everything down and miss the discussion.
    – No sidebars allowed. Talking while someone else in speaking is rude. Unless you are quietly telling someone that their chair is on your foot, we are all listening to whoever is speaking. Therefore, don’t speak unless you actually have relevant sh*t to say.
    – All voices are welcome. Everyone in the meeting is there for a reason and their contributions are welcome. If a bigwig is trying to steamroll a junior person, I will deliberately clear the floor for junior person to finish uninterrupted.
    – Someone who breaks these rules will get called out by me. (I have literally kicked people out of training sessions for repeated bad behavior.) Usually I only have to cut people off or remind them of the ground rules once or twice, politely. At a certain point, it becomes the normal group behavior for everyone to be on time, prepared, and courteous, so the outliers get managed by the herd too, not just me.

    Again, this approach may be too hardcore for some office cultures, but I find it pretty effective. If people are going to hate me, I’d rather it be for being an uber productive meeting taskmaster than for being someone who let blowhards waste our time, you know? And good for you for wanting to fix this — your team appreciates it. :)

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I am one of three admins in my department, and it drives me crazy that the other two admins are constantly whispering to each other during faculty meetings. One of them has very strong opinions about How Things Should Be Done, and if she hears anything that sets off her sense thereof, she can’t just hold it to herself for a later discussion. It’s not her place to interject about most things that are discussed in a faculty meeting (unless she has relevant practical information to provide other than just her opinion), so she engages the ear of the other admin to speak her piece.

      1. Artemesia*

        Wow If that were happening in faculty meetings I have participated in, the Admins would suddenly find they were not longer invited to these meetings.

      2. OriginalYup*

        I am a meeting monster, so I will totally turn to coworkers who are sidebarring and ask them to shut it. “Hey guys, I can’t hear Speaker over you. Can you keep it down?” :: whisper whisper :: “GUYS. STOP.”

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I plan to start doing that beginning with our next scheduled meeting in the fall. We don’t have very many meetings per semester, and I just started working here in June. So far we’ve had the fall 2015 faculty retreat, the fall 2015 end-of-semester meeting, and the spring 2016 beginning-of-semester meeting. The other admins have whispered through each one, and I felt like I was too new to say anything, so I just observed. Now I’ve observed enough, and come fall, they better watch out.

    2. LQ*

      I often find myself saying “What’s this meeting about?” because the person setting up the meeting hasn’t done any of the things. If they can’t express what the meeting is about clearly and quickly I’ve been known to push people into rescheduling and doing the agenda and notes ahead of time. (not all meetings are like this, but like 95% of them or so should really have a clear, this is why we are here and what we are trying to do)

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        My former coworker always asks “What’s this meeting about” or “Why are you asking me to attend?’

        It took some time to get used to (I thought she was critiquing me), but really she was incredibly good amount protecting her time and wanted to ensure she felt prepared before walking in. Even though I had always sent out agendas ahead of time, her questions and push back got me to flesh out my agendas more.

        Also, “because boss wants you there” didn’t fly with her, so I got really good about asking, “What do we hope to accomplish by adding Sansa to this meeting?” My former boss was really big on everyone should be involved in every meeting so that everyone can know everything. This helped focus our meetings.

    3. Hornswoggler*

      “No sidebars allowed. Talking while someone else in speaking is rude. Unless you are quietly telling someone that their chair is on your foot, we are all listening to whoever is speaking. Therefore, don’t speak unless you actually have relevant sh*t to say.”

      I chair a lot of networking meetings with attenders from different organisations who like to use the opportunity to catch up with someone they haven’t seen for a while. You inevitably get ‘side-conversations’ between two people sitting together. My go-to phrase for this is “Just ONE conversation round the table, please!” Then repeat the name of the person who was speaking before the side-conversation started.

    4. OP*

      I LOVE this. I want to be very respectful of everyone’s time so I will not allow the meetings to run even a minute over the scheduled end time–so we really don’t have time for windbags to suck up half of the meeting time. These meetings are brand new and are honestly more about team building and communication than they are about “getting things done” so I’ve tried to keep things very light–but that is obviously not sustainable if I want this to be a valuable use of our time. Thank you for the suggestions!

      1. OriginalYup*

        Good luck! Running meetings effectively is truly a challenge, so it’s awesome that you’re focused on doing it well. :)

  15. bibliovore*

    Thanks Alison. Your advice is on the nose.
    This is a classic classroom management situation.
    Announce ahead what is going to happen.
    Presentation 15 minutes. Q and A/ discussion 10 minutes. Announcements.
    When someone interrupts a presentation. Interrupt them. “Please hold your comments and questions until Ramona is finished”
    When it is Q & A or comments time. Write down the names of people who wish to speak- I see that Beezus and Henry have comments. Ribsy. you will follow.
    Ribsy drones on- watch the clock- after 2 minutes..interrupt and say- Ribsy, I am watching the clock, you have one minute to finish your thought, then we will move on.

    1. starsaphire*

      +1 for all the Ramona references. I see you are a Klickitat Street aficionado too! :)

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Heh heh, nice Beverly Cleary references. These are good suggestions and a good analogy. Meetings do sort of function like a class.

      Off topic, but Cleary turns 100 on April 12!

  16. Rebecca*

    Alison’s advice is great, and I hope you are able to use those tips. One thing I would note about the fact that the individual stands during the meetings may be due to a back injury of some kind. We have a couple of guys on my team who are older and they will stand during a meeting, normally they stand right up against the wall so it’s not super distracting. 2 of them have said it is because they get back pain if they stay seated for long periods of time, the third is actually a big advocate of standing in general because of the research about how sitting all day can be bad for your health. Not sure if that info was helpful, but wanted to share my experience with why some people stand.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      One of the most useful things I learned at OCS was when the instructors said on the first day of class “This material is important. If you are drowsy stand at the back of the room to stay awake.” I’ve used that many times of the years.

    2. AnotherFed*

      Seconding the standing. In addition to back injuries, it could be other injuries/general stiffness. Standing is also one of the techniques I teach my new employees if they’re having trouble staying alert (warm room + afternoon meeting can get a lot of us drowsy), or if they’ve arrived late and want to minimize disturbance to the room (as in, stand in back rather than disturb people or walk in front of the projector to get to a chair).

      I think that the standing thing (and maybe even the late arrival) are not actually problems, but the OP is so BEC with him for the meeting hijacking that they’re adding to the irritation.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      I was once in an all-day meeting where the most senior person present let me know at the start that he’d hurt his back and would be getting up to stand from time to time. A couple of more junior guys started copying him – every time he stood up, they’d stand up, and every time he sat down, they sat down. He hadn’t told anyone else about his bad back. It was fascinating to observe!

    4. Green*

      I stand in meetings sometimes. We’re a healthcare-related company so we have lots of conscientious people (plus, it can help you stay alert and minimize distractions like laptops or phones). I’d address the other behaviors and leave the standing alone.

  17. Honeybee*

    OP, please please please do all of the things in #2. I have a deep and abiding love for meeting organizers who actively manage their meetings like so, and most of the people I know appreciate it even if they never say anything to you about it.

  18. DCGirl*

    I worked for one non-profit CEO who that eliminated lateness to meetings by requiring that the first person who arrived after the designated start time would be tasked with typing up and distributing the minutes of the meeting. You’d see people sprint down the hall to the conference room for his meetings.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I can see two people arriving at the door at the same time and descending into a battle to rival a roller derby skirmish in their zeal to avoid taking notes.

      1. AMG*

        I would go to that meeting. Sounds way more interesting than most (but not all) of my other ones.

  19. Student*

    “Why don’t you two continue that discussion offline so we can keep the meeting short?”
    is a good way to get people to stop talking about things that most of the room doesn’t care about.

    I really think you should, at minimum, tell this guy not to interrupt his underling’s presentations, because you want to give the underlings a chance to show off on their own merits for the rest of the group. Some people just do not get concepts like that and focus instead on getting out the message that they care about at the expense of everything else.

  20. Lies, damn lies, and...*

    I like to have a parking lot – and at the start of the meeting say we have a tight agenda and everyone has the option to suggest we parking lot something, including to tell me I’m going too long and we should parking lot. Allot 5 mins at the end of the meeting to do a quick read through/make sure things are still relevant/add to next meeting agenda if needed. Not the full solution here obviously but could be useful if this is happening to a lesser extent with other attendees.

    1. Hornswoggler*

      Isn’t the parking lot just known as ‘Any Other Business’? I’ve always subscribed to the rule that if it’s not on the agenda, it goes in Any Other Business, which means it gets talked about last, and probably not for very long and not by the entire meeting as people have to leave for other commitments. It also encourages people to submit agenda items in advance.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      Yes, I think I’m going to demand all non-urgent matters be communicated to me via llama-gram.

      1. Artemesia*

        Precisely the thing our visionary would have come up with if only he had been given a chance.

  21. catsAreCool*

    “our new llama-gram initiative” This is great! I’m picturing a llama bringing a card to someone.

  22. Ruffingit*

    My experience with this sort of thing is that stating things to the whole group gets people thinking something is about them when it’s really not. I’m not so sure they will be appreciative of someone doing that. I think interrupting this guy while he’s demonstrating his behaviors and talking to him directly is much better than addressing the group because it doesn’t seem any of them have issues with the topics at hand. It’s the one guy and he should be shut down in the middle of it and talked to separately in my view.

  23. Vicki*

    “I’ve set aside 15 minutes to talk about our new llama-gram initiative and then Valentina, Bob, and Hercules are each going to present for five minutes on various elements of it.”

    Alison – I want to say how much I look forward to these examples for what to say! I <3 your creativity with much <3.

  24. nightengalesaliva*

    I am part of a volunteer group of professionals. We had so much trouble with one person who not only interrupted, but talked three to four times on any subject, at length, without allowing everyone a voice. Upon being asked repeatedly to let everyone have a chance first before he spoke again, he became publicly threatening, as in “I don’t know what I am going to do if you interrupt me again”, glare.

    We went behind his back, reconfigured the entire group with professional standards, new leadership and committees. He is demoted and the group has written standards on how to conduct a meeting, from agenda with time limits to who takes notes to starting on time to not speaking again until everyone has a shot.

    In the process, we found out that we had lost members in the past because of this person.

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