Bad Meetings: A Guide to Frustrating Facilitators and Annoying Attendees

By Robert Half December 5, 2019 at 2:30pm

Most of us have been in one of those bad meetings that seems to go on for an eternity — yet you walk out feeling like nothing was accomplished that couldn’t have been covered in a quick email. Or the conversation drifted in so many directions you’re more confused than you were going in. But these gatherings don’t have to be painful time wasters. 

To help your meetings run more efficiently and be more productive, here’s an overview of some common conference room characters, along with tips on how to manage them — and make sure you’re not one of the offenders.

The Meek Moderator

This meeting “leader” has great difficulty sticking to the agenda or exerting any authority. He waits for people who are very late, fails to redirect the conversation when it goes astray, allows a few participants to dominate the discussion and lets the (bad) meeting run long. 

Tips: This is a hard situation. If you’re not in control of the meeting, you don’t want to make it seem like you’re taking over. What you can do is politely try to keep the meeting on schedule and on topic. If it’s 10 minutes after the meeting is supposed to start and the moderator is still waiting on someone, suggest the meeting start anyway and offer to update the latecomer yourself.

When someone derails the conversation and the moderator doesn’t bring it back to the topic at hand within a few minutes, you could say, “That sounds like something we should talk about more. Can we add that to next week’s meeting agenda?”

The Meeting Addict 

The Meeting Addict is more comfortable talking about work than actually doing it. Blinded by her love of PowerPoint presentations, she assumes everyone shares her passion for powwows. She not only frequently calls unnecessary meetings, she invites throngs of people, adding to the drain on time and resources.

Tips: Many long-standing bad meetings outlive their original purpose. If you’re leading the meeting, consider whether it’s truly necessary.

If you attend gatherings with the Meeting Addict, politely suggest that the meeting be shorter or less frequent so everyone can get more of their work done while still regularly checking in with each other. 

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The Idea Killer

You’re in a meeting where the boss instructs everyone to remain open to any and all ideas. As cool concepts are volleyed around and begin taking shape, the room seems full of possibilities — until this brainstorm buster pipes up. The perpetual pessimist offers no ideas, but continually interrupts the conversation to explain why each proposed solution could never work. 

Tips: One way to reign in the Idea Killer is to suggest that everyone give their ideas and not reject any of them until all suggestions are gathered. Create a judgment-free zone. Once all thoughts are stated, everyone can discuss the pluses and minuses of each.

Emphasize that the group shouldn’t aim to just shoot down ideas, but also think of alternatives that could work, if possible (it’s not always possible, of course). 

The Troubled Troubleshooter

The Troubled Troubleshooter spends most of his meetings frantically fiddling with malfunctioning video and audio equipment. After an extended period of head scratching and muttering to himself, he eventually throws his hands up in frustration and asks this futile question: “Um, anybody know how to work this thing?” 

Tips: First, make sure you aren’t the Troubled Troubleshooter. Conduct a trial run of the equipment beforehand to avoid embarrassing technical difficulties when the spotlight’s on you.

If someone else regularly has technical issues that delay meetings, offer to help them or see if someone else with technical savvy can assist.

The Smartphone Fiend 

This gadget-dependent person, one of today’s most frequently encountered meeting offenders, is both distracted and distracting. She’s physically present but is so immersed in responding to messages that she has no clue what’s being discussed. 

Tips: If you’re leading a meeting full of Smartphone Fiends, ask everyone to put away their devices and computers at the outset. For meetings you’re not leading, be sure you act engaged — and get into the habit of turning your mobile device on silent as soon as you sit down.

If you’re expecting an urgent call or message, be as discreet as possible or briefly step outside. 

The Lunch Break Obliterator

Looking forward to catching up with a friend for lunch? Hoping to use your break to run errands? Simply craving a tuna sandwich? Well, forget it. The Lunch Break Obliterator has other plans for you: eating up your break with a meeting scheduled near or during lunch hour. 

Tips: While it can be difficult to find an opening that works for everyone, do your best to avoid scheduling meetings during lunchtime. If you must, be clear about why you’re doing it, and consider treating attendees to a snack or light meal.

If you’re required to be at a regular meeting during lunch, ask the organizer if it’s possible to adjust it forward or backward by half an hour to allow everyone time to eat or get out of the office. 

The Class Clown

Is it a weekly staff meeting or open mic night at the local comedy club? It’s hard to tell when this incorrigible comic is in the room. Regardless of the mood or topic, the Class Clown has no shortage of corny quips, puns and one-liners. 

Tips: Whether you’re leading a meeting or attending it, embrace moderation. A clever, well-timed joke can help you break the ice, build rapport or diffuse tension. But attempts at humor, particularly sarcasm, can backfire if you go overboard.

Taking things too far is no laughing matter, as it can cause others to question your professionalism. Instead of formulating your next knee-slapper, focus on contributing valuable input.  

While the characters highlighted here are extreme examples, you’ve likely encountered similar people. If you saw yourself in any of the descriptions, don’t worry. Recognizing inefficient or bothersome behavior is half the battle. It’s in your control to quickly turn it around and make potentially bad meetings more positive and productive. 

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