We’ve all been there at one point or another. You’re in a meeting, and in the span of 30 seconds, your objective has gone off the rails and what you intended to accomplish is now a distant memory. It’s almost like being back on the playground when you were a kid, and someone named Spike has literally kicked you off the swingset. You didn’t want to get off the swing, but that pushy kid landed you in the sand.
Sometimes we see the same behavior in our day-to-day interactions at work.
Recognizing The Culprit
You may see a few observable traits of the swingset thief in meetings. They frequently interrupt, try to steal or redirect the agenda, or break the flow of the group. They try to dominate the conversation, infusing their opinions without allowing input from others.
It almost seems like the old saying “my way or the highway.” Typically, there is no room for discussion and the behavior rings more aggressive than assertive. Sometimes it’s downright brutal. Ideas are knocked down, emotions start to run high and meeting participants just shut down and run for the hills.
How good is that for a team? Remember the old science theory we learned in school, negative energy attracts negative energy? When room is made for the swingset thief, it brings down the energy and enthusiasm for the entire team. Engagement suffers and a collaborative, creative environment just becomes nonexistent.
How To Get Your Swing Back
First and foremost, stay in charge of your meeting. As the facilitator, make sure to send out a clear agenda of topics being covered ahead of time. Sounds simple, but you would be shocked at how many people don’t take this suggestion to heart.
Remember that those who are more introverted need time to internally process and think about the topic. Give them that courtesy by sending the agenda ahead of time. Also, when the meeting starts, clearly state your objectives and expected outcomes for your time together.
Second, make sure to take your place next to the usual culprit. If you are convening in person, instead of sitting directly across from the thief, keep them close to you. Because you are not face-to-face, you may have a better chance of staying in control and not landing in the sand, brushing yourself off or running for help. The proximity you create may keep your swing stealer in check.
Third, don’t be wishy-washy when responding to the usual culprit. The key is to stay cool, collected and confident. Be emotionally intelligent and aware of your reactions. No eye rolling or looking away, no huffing and puffing or showing your frustration. Look him or her straight in the eye. If it gets aggressive or there is a lot of interrupting and derailing going on, don’t be afraid to hit the brakes. The thief needs this correction big time. Calmly and professionally tell them you want to finish your point and will provide them the same opportunity shortly. The key is to stay in control and stop the behavior gracefully and precisely.
As a certified coach in the field of personalities and behaviors, I typically find that swingset thieves just want to be heard, or they are so motivated by results that they move too fast for others. Some people just see the problems and are trying to vet them out and make sure you see them too. That, or they are so determined to get it done, they don’t want to take the time to hear others.
Most of the time, they are well-intentioned, but their delivery gets them in trouble. Trust me, we do need them to see what could go wrong and to drive results quickly, however, they need to realize that breaking the flow of the meeting is troublesome, stifles creativity and, if they do it too often, it can damage their brand. They will find that instead of being someone who uncovers issues or moves the team quickly, they will be perceived as the proverbial roadblock.
Who Are You?
I would imagine we have all had some experience in this area. The trick is to evaluate our own behaviors and increase our self-awareness on what side of the swing we are on. Are we sitting on it or falling off it?
It takes practice, but in either case, acknowledging your own behaviors and bringing more balance to the situation can only help the greater good of the teams you work on and the goals of your company.