First posted February 2012
Fortunately companies these days are cutting down on internal meetings – they eat up time and therefore money. It will be some time, though, before face-to-face gatherings are a thing of the past. Until that happens, here are five meeting personalities to keep an eye out for – they can hijack your agenda without even trying.
1. The celebrity
You can spot a celebrity immediately – they’re the person still chatting on the phone as they walk into the meeting, five minutes late. Rather than sitting down quietly to make up for disrupting the gathering, the celebrity will make a big show of checking email, scanning the web or sending a text message. It’s more than likely the celebrity will have to take a call halfway through the agenda, or at the very least leave early to get to their next appointment. The celebrity is in such high demand that normal meeting etiquette just doesn’t apply – after all you’re lucky they chose your meeting over all the other demands on their time.
2. The cynic
The cynic’s body language gives them away – arms crossed, lounging around at the back of the room studiously avoiding eye contact with the meeting organiser. But it’s all an act. The cynic is paying very careful attention to everything that is said and storing up arguments for why it won’t work, can’t work, or shouldn’t work. If you let them, this personality type will completely derail your discussion or spark an argument that overshadows the reason for the meeting. The evil genius of the cynic is that their influence doesn’t end when the discussion does – they will continue to sow dissent in the corridors, at the coffee machine, and in the bathroom.
3. The yes man
On the surface, the yes man seems the prefect ally of the meeting organiser. But that’s where you would be wrong. The yes man is the natural enemy of open discussion; after all, who wants to be the first to challenge a point that has already been warmly praised by the duopoly at the front of the room (of course, the yes man is located as close to the meeting organiser as possible). Word of advice: if you persist with brainstorming sessions, despite proof that they don’t work, make sure your yes man is having the day off.
4. The self-promoter
The self-promoter can find a way to turn any situation into a chance to highlight their own activities and achievements. It doesn’t matter how tenuous the connection, they will find it. You just know the self-promoter is an expert at job interview questions of the “what’s your biggest flaw?” ilk. Like the celebrity, this meeting character will be forever scanning their smartphone but their agenda is not so much to look important, but to be able to interrupt to ask someone else in the room about a project or task they just received feedback on, no mater how unrelated it is to the topic at hand.
5. The wallflower
In the same vein as the yes man, at first blush the wallflower appears to be the perfect meeting personality – on time, prepared, attentive and happy to keep their mouth shut. The wallflower could be a new employee still feeling out the company or an old timer who has seen it all. The problem with the wallflower is that you can never be sure what they are really thinking. At some stage though, as the meeting organiser, you will have to ask them, and that’s where things can go downhill quickly. Without the distraction of a personal agenda, these meeting participants are likely to remember all kinds of details you had hoped were forgotten.