How To Navigate A Meeting Gone Wrong
Meetings can be tricky to navigate, especially once they’ve “gone off the rails,” so to speak. Whether you have outlined an objective for your meeting or not, there are inevitably discussions that do not go according to plan — despite our best efforts. When this occurs, do you push your colleagues further, stop the conversation, or freeze up? There are many potential next moves, but ultimately, the goal is to create a safe meeting environment for every worker and accomplish your goal. So, how can you navigate a frustrating meeting so that your job (and all of your employee’s responsibilities) gets done?
Start With A Collective Deep Breath
Sometimes one of the best things we can do when a situation goes awry is to take a deep breath. While this may seem silly, or even impossible in the moment, its physicality can actually help you decompress. Encourage the entire meeting room to take a collective deep breath after if a frustrating situation arises. Step in when you realize that the meeting is going haywire and take some time to create a collective calming moment for the entire team. You will likely be met with appreciation as we do tend to “forget to breathe” in stressful situations.
Author and researcher, Brené Brown, talks about the act of rumbling in her book Dare To Lead. When she wrote about this topic on her website, she talks about “rumbling” as the act of having those honest, real conversations. Sometimes these conversations will be tough or create a vulnerable situation for those involved, but they need to happen in order for meaningful change to occur.
Brown provides several “rumble starters,” including verbiage such as:
- Tell me more
- That’s not my experience
- Walk me through that
The purpose is to dive deep into conversations like this instead of shying away from them. Brown suggests that we put down our armor or defense mechanisms and instead become curious. Ask yourself, what does the other side think? (And then ask them!)
Take Notes On What’s Frustrating You
When we write down our issues, we can systematically walk through them. If a meeting is leading to frustrating feelings, take some time during the meeting to write things down while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Take a few minutes to free-write the emotions that occur. Who are you frustrated with? Why is the situation frustrating? What do you want to say about this? Once you are done, return your mind to finishing the meeting. Once the meeting is over, read what you wrote. Is it worth pursuing further? How can you connect with the situation so that it won’t happen again? Do you need to address a specific person, a group of people, or the entire office?
Giving yourself some distance from the situation can help you handle a meeting gone wrong in a more mature way. Blowing up in a meeting may cause you to say things you don’t necessarily mean or create more damage in the workplace. So, write things down so you can address them later.
Table Discussions In Your Meetings
Sometimes conversations are just not productive, and we need to let them go (for now). If this is the case, you may want to table discussions for later meetings. When you table a discussion, you hit the pause button, so that everyone can gain their composure and pick up the conversation at a later date. By tabling a discussion, everyone can take a collective breath, and find a better way to approach any tough situation.
You shouldn’t table all discussions. Table items to get the meeting back on track and on time, to increase awareness of issues up for debate, or when discussions are getting too heated to be productive. It’s hard to have an insightful conversation when people aren’t on the same page.
Start Future Meetings With An Agenda
Agendas give meetings structure, structure encourages productivity. Often when meetings go awry, it is because they are not planned as well as they should have been. To stop this from happening in the future, revisit your agenda and ask yourself, are you:
- Creating a proper schedule that keeps people on track?
- Spending too much time on one part of the agenda?
- Adding too much to the agenda given the timeframe of your meeting?
It’s important to ask these questions because an agenda only works when it’s crafted carefully.
Give People An Anonymous Way To Air Their Grievances
When meetings have gone wrong, it may be challenging for your employees to express themselves. Instead of airing grievances aloud, give your employees a chance to air some of their complaints anonymously.
Consider creating an online form that they can submit without their name, or allow them to write down a grievance on a scrap piece of paper. Go through these grievances and address them with the group. Air it all out and brainstorm ways to move on from these situations.
Meetings Gone Wrong Don’t Have To Stay That Way
Above all else, it’s essential to realize that meetings gone wrong can change course. When you are in the middle of a tumultuous or frustrating meeting, it can be tempting to let things lapse, but take action. The show must go on, and it’s your job to step in and correct what has gone awry. It’s okay to be overwhelmed at first, but with these tips, hopefully, you’ll be able to take back control of these meetings and steer them in the right direction.