(By Buzz Knight) We have all been part of this nightmare before: a meeting of the minds is convened to accomplish something crucial. Meeting goals have been laid out in advance. Everyone seems aligned with the correct intent.

Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, that one person hijacks the conversation.

Sometimes it comes like a lightning bolt, other times it occurs rather quietly. “That person” starts pontificating to show off how smart they are. Usually, their diatribe has nothing to do with the point of the meeting. The person who thinks they’re the smartest person in the room has erupted and there is no turning back.

So, what are you to do about it?

At this point, the meeting where this is occurring is probably lost, but there are lessons you can learn from this nightmare situation.

Lock The Doors

Unless that person is the owner of the company, your boss on a corporate or local level, or one of your biggest clients, don’t invite them next time to your meeting. This is tricky, but if you identify a culprit then you can better control this in future meetings.

The big takeaway here – if you want a productive meeting, you do need to hand-select the right people to put in a room. You need those who are open-minded and willing to not dominate a conversation thereby throwing off the entire mission.

Collaborators are welcome; hijackers can stay away.

Be Decisive

Next time, be much more clear and decisive if you are running the meeting to lay out a specific agenda for the meeting. Circulate a working agenda before it’s finalized to solicit input from others, so there is a shared vision for the purpose. Everyone who walks into the next meeting then is unified in the goals, time frame, and the desired outcome.

No-Phone Zone

Ban cell phones from being on. I was fortunate many years ago to be in a strategic meeting with the great business leader Jack Trout. He said to us as the meeting started, “Turn off your cellphones. We have work to do, and I need your undivided attention.”

Robert Rules

Consider using a version of Robert’s Rules of Order, which is a procedural guide for meetings that dates make to 1876 and is considered the standard for facilitating discussions. Although this is more “parliamentary” in its procedure, it is guaranteed to keep the meeting on track.

And If All Else Fails…

If, after all of this, you still are dealing with the “smartest person in the room syndrome,” consider finding yourself a new room.

Buzz Knight can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]. Read Buzz’ Radio Ink archives here.


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