Don’t let difficult personalities derail your meetings

Keeping a meeting on track can be difficult at times. It can be difficult to stay on one topic during a well-structured meeting, but can be especially hard when difficult personalities come into play.

Keeping a meeting on course, whether you are the president, the facilitator, an outside mediator or a member of a group, can prove to be difficult at times. It can be difficult to stay on one topic until that topic has been completely addressed as other topics may pop up and take the group in another direction. Those types of situations can be frustrating, but at least everyone has the same goal of addressing necessary issues.

A trickier situation develops when a meeting is taken off track due to a strong personality in the group. These situations can be much more frustrating and even harder to keep both the group and the strong personality’s concentration on track. There are many different difficult personality traits that can derail a meeting or program.

  • Side conversationalist
  • Overly talkative
  • Rambler
  • Stubborn or obstinate
  • Complainer or griper
  • Professional hecklers

To effectively stop some of these challenges, you may choose to do a few of the following.

Walk around the room while facilitating or talking and stand behind the side conversationalist. This is a great subtle way to help them stop talking without calling them out. They are more likely to focus as all eyes are faced in their direction. Another way would be to bring them into the discussion by asking if they had some input on the subject they would like to share with the group.

For the overly talkative person who always has something to say about the issues, try directing the conversation back to the others in the group. The facilitator can simply state that this person has made a valid point or has shared some interesting information, but now it would be helpful if the group could hear from others.

Sometimes individuals will share a valid point, but then continue to ramble on unnecessarily in an effort to solidify their point. This person is known as the rambler. This person may also switch from stating a valid point to “story mode,” where they share experiences and numerous examples to validate their point. There are times when telling a story can be very helpful in making a point, but when it gets out of hand and they ramble on and on, it will derail the meeting or program. In this situation, a good approach would be to wait for a pause or break in their story and then quickly and politely interrupt them, thank them for their input and direct the conversation back to the issue.

These are just a few tips and tricks for keeping meetings and programs on track. For more information on how to deal with professional hecklers, stubborn or obstinate people, complainers or gripers and other difficult personalities, please contact the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Leadership/Civic Engagement Team at

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