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Bosses, Bullies, and Braggarts: How to Tame Meeting Dominators

September 20, 2018 2:24 pm

How to Handle a Dominator in a Meeting: Top Tips to Ensure Productive Conversations

In any meeting setting, you’re bound to encounter a diverse array of personalities. There’s the Eternal Optimist, always seeing the silver lining no matter the challenges; the Meeting Dominator, who monopolizes the conversation, often sidelining others; and the Silent Observer, absorbing all information but speaking sparingly. While we delve deeper into managing distinct personalities in another blog, it’s crucial to highlight that the Meeting Dominator can be particularly disruptive, emerging as a leading cause of ineffective meetings.

What is a Meeting Dominator?

A meeting dominator is an individual who overly controls or dominates a conversation, often sidelining the contributions of others. This can manifest in various ways:

  • A boss rushing decisions without thorough analysis.
  • A colleague overshadows quieter team members.
  • A subject matter expert who speaks without pause.

Their presence can make meetings less effective and even intimidating for others.

Techniques to Manage Dominators

Managing dominators is both an art and a science. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, a combination of pre-planned strategies and in-the-moment responses can create a balanced meeting environment. 

Designing Your Meeting for Balance

The first step to keeping dominators in check is through careful meeting design. We have a whole article dedicated to facilitation techniques that increase engagement, however start off by incorporating these strategies in your next meeting:

  • Round-robin format: Here, everyone speaks in turn, ensuring that all voices are heard.
  • Sub-grouping: Grouping individuals based on function, interest, or numbers (like pairs or triads) narrows the dominator’s influence.
  • Ping-ponging ideas: When an idea is presented, ask others to paraphrase or expand on that idea, preventing any single person from steering off-course.

Setting Meeting Norms

To avoid over-dominance, it’s crucial to set meeting norms or guidelines. Setting effective meeting norms help the group define and agree to a list of actions that will guide or regulate behavior. When there is the potential for an intimidating subject matter expert or senior level participant to dominate, head them off before diving into the content:

  • Engage the Group: Ask participants, “What guidelines do we want to set today to ensure everyone is heard?”
  • Propose Examples: If the group struggles, suggest norms like:
    • Speak for a maximum of two minutes.
    • Only revisit decisions when new vital information arises.
    • Paraphrase or ask clarifying questions before critiquing.
    • Use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…” during idea generation
  • Referee the Norms: After setting norms, act as a referee and clarify how rule breakers will be addressed. This could involve gentle reminders or direct interventions.

Addressing Dominance in Action

Even with norms in place, there might still be moments when a dominator pushes boundaries. Immediate action is required the minute you realize that doing nothing will make matters worse. Remember, though, the goal is to increase group participation, not to shut down the dominator. Here’s what you can do:

  • Intervene Promptly: If a dominator is speaking for too long, prompt them to summarize their points.
  • Leverage Breaks: Use scheduled breaks to remind the dominator about the norms.
  • Ask for Suggestions: Engage the dominator by asking for ways to keep the meeting on track.
  • Adapt Meeting Design: If necessary, shift to a structured format to bring everyone into the conversation

Have you used a successful technique in the past to handle meeting dominators? We’d love to hear about it!

Let us Know

Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!