How to Control Someone Who Dominates Meetings

Meetings often unfold similar to encounters on the playground: Passive and dominating attendees annoy each other and complicate things. So why not simply let the passive meeting participants fade into the woodwork and let the dominators take over the game board? Several reasons:

  • Dominators monopolize and prevent other ideas and solutions from surfacing.
  • Dominators often ramble and repeat themselves, creating boredom and impatience among the other group members.
  • The biased opinion of one or two dominant personalities may not represent the group as a whole, and as a result, decisions and actions may not accurately reflect the group’s thinking.
  • One dominating person can lead to a poor group decision that has a damaging effect on the entire organization.
  • Passive participants frequently complain later that they’ve had no opportunity for input.
  • Passive participants often fail to engage and lend their support to important initiatives.
  • Passive participants may even sabotage a group decision or action.
  • Passive participants deprive others of their expertise.

6 Ways to Control Dominating Meeting Personalities

In an ideal world, all meeting participants would play nice. They would arrive on time, put away their devices, tune in to the discussion, contribute passionately, listen to their colleagues’ opinions, understand the logical flow of the commentary, resolve conflict amicably, leave fully committed to the group’s decisions, and be accountable for any assigned follow-up action.

But they don’t. So whether you’re the leader or participant, you can help keep things on track:

Accept Comments From the Dominator Without Yielding the Floor

Giving verbal pats on the back typically encourages the person to keep talking and explaining. (Examples: “That’s an intriguing idea. Others?” “Good idea.” “I like that.” “That could work.”) Withholding such pats can extinguish the dominator’s input.

Acknowledge a Contribution With Only Body Language

If someone continues a dialogue long after it should have ended, chances are great that’s because the dominator feels compelled to have “the last word.” So let him. Give eye contact, a smile, a nod, or an open palm. Then turn to someone else for another contribution on the topic.

Play Traffic Cop With a Verbal Cue

“Let’s hear from several people on this issue.” “Somebody from Legal—what do you think about the proposed change?” Or: “I’d like to hear everyone weigh in on this issue. What do the rest of you think?”

Encourage Others by Name to Enter the Discussion

Bring others into a discussion intentionally. “Jaime, what do you think about X?” It’s difficult for a dominator to continue talking over another person when someone redirects traffic to a specific person.

Break the Dominator’s Train of Thought

Simply break eye contact, and divert attention elsewhere. If on a teleconference, break the dominator’s train of thought during a long ramble by asking a question: “Julie, excuse me for interrupting here: Let me ask you a question about what you just said.” Then ask a short-answer question. That distraction typically breaks the ramble and gives you opportunity to regain the floor after the person’s short answer.

Call the Dominator by Name

“Tyler, before we get off on another track here, I’d like us to spend more time discussing how to ….” Calling a person’s name puts him or her on the spot in a gentle way to relinquish the floor—and refocuses discussion quickly to avoid embarrassing anyone.

Playing word games on your smartphone is not the answer to meaningless meetings. Instead, contribute value by paying attention to process, rescuing an inept facilitator, and helping to control dominators.

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