Almost every presenter or facilitator will eventually have to deal with people who exhibit difficult behavior. In this blog, we will talk about behavior that disrupts the presentation or the work of a group. Disruptive behavior, some intentional and some not, can destroy the flow of even a well-organized presentation or meeting. However, you can effectively deal with it should you know how to do it.

Here are some typical forms of disruptive behavior and some methods for dealing with it effectively. Obviously, some of these methods may vary somewhat if the culprit is a senior-level member in an organization or a guest in a meeting. In general, you should exercise good judgment and keep a cool head:

  1. The Know-It-All
  2. The Know-It-All wants to impose their opinion on everyone else. This type may use credentials, length of service, or professional status to assert a point or may repeatedly interrupt with comments or observations made in an authoritative tone. They may feel they know more than the facilitator and should be running the meeting (see also Loudmouth, Talk Hog).

    APPROACH: Encourage other members to comment on their remarks freely. Let the rest of the group take care of them. Build the confidence of the group so it won’t be imposed upon by this character.

  3. The Argumentative type
  4. This type of individual always tries to cross up the presenter or leader. They will quibble over the most trivial details and love to get the other fellow’s goat.

    APPROACH: The first rule is to keep cool. The presenter or facilitator should not lose their head nor allow others to do so. Use questions to draw the individual out and then turn them over to the group, but without getting personal. Get the opinion of the majority.

  5. The Talk Hog
  6. The Talk Hog wants to do all the talking. Like the Loudmouth, the Talk Hog wants to dominate the meeting.

    APPROACH: Be very tactful but interrupt and ask others to comment. Another method is to fail to recognize him. Turn toward others when you are asking a question or listening to an answer. It may become necessary to ask them politely to refrain from talking and to give someone else a chance. However, if this cannot be done without embarrassing the person, then a private talk is advisable.

  7. The Bad Attitude
  8. The Bad Attitude thinks you are telling them how to run their job and resents it.

    APPROACH: Get them to feel that the presentation or meeting experience can be valuable to others, and that the purpose is to exchange ideas and pool experiences.

  9. The Shy Clam
  10. This type of person is just what the name implies.

    APPROACH: Call them by name and ask an easier question that you are sure they will be able to answer well. Find something for them to do in the presentation or meeting, like hanging up charts, assisting in a demonstration, or presenting a report.

  11. The Latecomer
  12. The Latecomer comes to the meeting or presentation late and wants everything to stop while they are brought up-to-date.

    APPROACH: Start your presentation or meeting on time. Focus the attention of the meeting away from the door and do not stop when the Latecomer arrives. Have a private talk with them later.

  13. The Early Leaver
  14. The Early Leaver drains the energy of the group by leaving before the presentation or meeting is over

    APPROACH: Check at the beginning to see who needs to leave early, and try to adjust your agenda around this. Be sure to start and finish the meeting on time. Confront the person outside the meeting about why they leave early.

  15. The Broken Record
  16. The Broken Record is the one who keeps bringing up the same point over and over.

    APPROACH: Acknowledge that the point is important to the individual. Then ask the group if they are ready to move on.

  17. The Doubting Thomas
  18. They constantly put down everything under discussion. They are always ready with a negative evaluation.

    APPROACH: Get the group to agree to a process that includes an agreement not to evaluate ideas for a set period of time.

  19. The Dropout
  20. The Dropout sits in the back of the room, reading, doodling and not saying a word.

    APPROACH: Walk near the person and ask them a question. Talk to them about this behavior during a break.

  21. The Whisperer
  22. The Whisperer is constantly whispering to their neighbor, engaging in side discussions, which detract others from the main thrust of the meeting.

    APPROACH: Walk near the Whisperer. Ask the group to focus and/or to avoid side conversations. Find a way to separate chronic Whisperers.

  23. The Loudmouth
  24. They just plain talk too much during the meeting or presentation. Warning! The Loudmouth may also be a Know-it-All and an Interrupter.

    APPROACH: Move closer and closer to the person and maintain eye contact. As soon as the person stops talking, shift the focus to someone else.

  25. The Attacker
  26. This type of personality can be highly disruptive. It launches personal attacks on other participants or the facilitator.

    APPROACH: Get people to talk to you rather than to each other. Refocus on ideas rather than individuals. Resist the instinct to defend yourself if you are attacked. See if the group agrees with the accusation.

  27. The Interrupter
  28. They start talking before others are finished. This can drastically reduce the desire of some members to participate and can suck the life out of the meeting.

    APPROACH: Immediately step in if someone interrupts. Be impartial and fair in interventions.

  29. The Teacher’s Pet
  30. This type of individual spends more time and energy looking for approval from the speaker or facilitator than focusing on the presentation or the meeting.

    APPROACH: Break eye contact with this person. Get them to talk to others, and others to them.

  31. The Interpreter
  32. They try to speak for other people. This may appear at first to be helpful behavior, but it only leads to disruption of the smooth flow of the meeting.

    APPROACH: Ask this person to let others speak for themselves.

  33. The Backseat Driver
  34. The Backseat Driver is always trying to tell the facilitator what they should be doing.

    APPROACH: Ask this person to suggest a procedure and, if the group agrees, use it.

  35. The Personal Grudge has a pet peeve, which they spend meeting time complaining about.
  36. APPROACH: Avoid discussion of their peeve. Explain that the discussion needs to focus on the greater good of the whole meeting, and not on personal gripes.

  37. The Lazy Person takes the easy route by always trying to get your opinion instead of giving theirs.
  38. APPROACH: Refer their questions back to the group, and then back to them.

  39. The Inexperienced Person
  40. They are really not up to speed. When they ask a “dumb” question, it’s because they really doesn’t know.

    APPROACH: Try to bring this person up to the group level. If more help is needed, save it for the break or some other time.

  41. The Person who is Wrong
  42. This type of person is often wrong but others, out of respect or sympathy, refuse to correct them.

    APPROACH: Avoid any direct criticism or ridicule. Use indirect methods. Analyze a case without reference to them personally. Perhaps speak to them in private.

  43. The Head Shaker
  44. They nonverbally disagree in a dramatic and disruptive manner. They are also very difficult to ignore.

    APPROACH: Ignore. Acknowledge behavior verbally (“You don’t agree?”), particularly if you think the person is unaware of the behavior.

  45. The Busybody
  46. The Busybody is always ducking in and out of the meeting. They can have the same problems as the Early Leaver and Latecomer.

    APPROACH: Deal with this person before the meeting. Try to schedule a meeting when there will be the fewest distractions.

Bottom Line

Disruptive behaviors may seem normal to most; however, they have the power to destroy the flow of a presentation or meeting real quick should you let them. Hopefully, these power steps can help you deal with them effectively and make your presentation or meeting a success.