David Wray

AdaptingCommunicationDifficult PeopleEffective TeamsGroup Meeting DynamicsLeadership

Leadership Skills: Managing Meeting Vampires

Meeting vampires sucking the energy out of the room in a business meeting.
Credit: CartoonStock

Encountering meeting vampires…

Picture this: In what may seem like a lifetime ago now, you walk into just another business meeting room. The topic could be anything from strategic planning to calibrating performance ratings. Inevitably the meeting starts well, niceties about the weekend or a new movie release, followed by kick-off into the agenda topics. As the meeting progresses, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, someone’s strong views or communication style emerges to dominate the discussion. One by one, individuals start to mentally check-out, just wishing it to end. The energy in the room plummets, tensions rise, and the meeting becomes inefficient, or worse, progress is lost. The meeting vampire has made his or her presence known!

Ironically, the pandemic has accentuated the issue with individuals now able to physically check out, protected from view by static profile pictures….happy days, or are they?

CNBC estimates that US organizations lose almost U$38 Billion annually on wasted or unproductive meetings. Extrapolate those findings globally and the numbers are mind-boggling! The situation is not sustainable. So, how can we eliminate time and energy-consuming vampires as a reason for unproductive experiences?

Neutralizing meeting vampires

Solving anything starts with an understanding. Why do meeting vampires emerge from the shadows (because after all, vampires rarely display themselves until they feel compelled to do so)?   

There are two perspectives to consider in grasping a full picture:

  1. Understand the individual’s (i.e.: the vampire) behaviour, point of view, or self-image
  2. Identify any inherent group biases 

Seeing the big picture

Understanding the individual first

You may wonder why I start talking about this issue from a place of empathy. It is quite simple. Through coaching leaders, I have seen that a failure to understand behaviour or other points of view is done at one’s peril. You may be thinking: why would I care about a disruptive person’s perspective if I can simply fire them?

Assumptions about an individual perpetuate the underlying issue, which I explain more fully in Empathy is a Life Skill. In particular, I share three key reasons that assumptions are problematic:

  1. You never have a complete picture, no matter how well you know someone. Each person deals with many events, factors, and circumstances that we’re unaware of. 
  2. Your view about a situation may be quite different and influenced by many things, including your mood right now!
  3. When dealing with emotional stress events, you could well behave in a very different way than you expected you would. 

So, in other words, ensure you haven’t biased yourself towards the individual themselves. If you have, address those first using the strategies in the blog!

Let’s assume you are unbiased, consider whether the individual in question has “blind spots”. For example, does the individual lack self-confidence? I explain how to assess this in Mojo Your Self-Confidence. You can use this understanding to communicate better. The ABC strategies, as a reminder, are:

  • Accommodation
  • Bravery
  • Clarity 
  • Definitive
  • Engagement

Consider if the “disruptive individual” is being triggered in some way. Triggers happen through words, tone, body language, or behaviours because it reminds them of a prior negative experience. A trigger is effectively solved quite quickly once it is identified and known. Simply don’t do it again!

Understanding possible team biases

Concluding there are no visible blind spots to address, then we turn our attention to the group meeting dynamics. 

For instance, Joan C. Williams’ research, published in HBR, found that men are more likely than women to dominate the conversation. Where men with expertise are perceived as more influential and women with expertise less so. This dynamic can easily trigger individuals and then create disruption. 

Leaders, in particular, should observe who’s in the room. Who’s doing the bulk of the talking when perhaps they should let others speak? Is someone notetaking when they could be leading? Who’s sitting quietly when they could be participating? 

Good leaders use several best practices to level the playing field and minimize the chance of meeting vampires emerging:

Best Meeting Dynamic Practices to Stave off Meeting Vampires

Additional tools to help you manage group biases are accessible through Bias Interrupters.

Meeting vampires are a distant memory

Addressing individual and team dynamics tends to eliminate meeting vampirism. Something that everyone benefits from.

Even with all of these steps in place, disruptive individuals can still make their presence felt to the discomfort of others. In these cases, it often comes down to giving the individual tough feedback. Remember, that is done effectively when it is designed to help an individual! 

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Section or comment below to share your views, tips, and tricks on how you as a leader or individual manage meeting vampires.

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