Managing Conflict in Meetings or Presentations


Managing Conflict in Meetings or Presentations

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By Sarah Jeffrey-Gray

Business Series

We have all, at some time, encountered the steamroller and the sniper. “Steamrollers” are aggressive, hostile, and intimidating; they don’t listen, they talk over what anyone else may have to say, and they bludgeon others with their views and demands. “Snipers” are far more insidious; they seek to undermine, often indirectly, and pick fault.

Steamrollers have a great need for control, and snipers are essentially insecure. So how can we best take the sting from their poisonous tails? Let’s consider some examples:

Steamroller Case Study

You are in a meeting with colleagues. All different levels of experience and seniority are represented. A project is being discussed, and a first-draft project plan has been produced by you and a couple of other colleagues. You spent quite a bit of time on the draft and thought it was a respectable first draft for discussion, although it might benefit from some tweaks here and there.

Yet the steamroller comes straight out with “I’ve read this draft. It’s hopeless – a total waste of time.” He throws his copy of the draft on the table. There is an uncomfortable silence in the room.

You are keen to get the project under way. So you consciously step out of the insult by refusing to get upset or defensive. Remembering what you have read recently somewhere about how best to deal with that kind of person, you say, “Yes, at this stage, we wanted really to produce a discussion draft only. We are all glad that you were able to come today so we could benefit from your experience and hear your thoughts on how best to approach the project. It would be really good to hear from you some of the detail around how the first draft could be improved and how we could reshape it or add to it before producing the second draft.”

The essential components of what you are saying can be broken down as follows: The “Yes” lowers the steamroller’s emotional arousal by seeming to agree initially with what he said. You then explain what the draft was for (i.e., discussion), and you go on to ask for the actual detail of what the steamroller was trying say, moving him away from the global “flattening” of his opening remarks.

It is very important to control your own emotional arousal. You must refrain from retaliating, despite the provocation – making a mental note to yourself that the steamroller is simply trying to gain control will help you do this. Then you must break down the global steamrolling comments into actual detail, which can then be discussed meaningfully.

Sniper Case Study

You are giving a presentation to some colleagues. There’s a troublemaker at the back who is making jokes at your expense about the presentation. (Snipers usually snipe from the safety of a crowd.)

The secret for dealing with these people is to get them on their own afterwards. Speak to them calmly and put them at their ease as much as you can with positive remarks – where possible, building the chance for them to answer with “Yes.” For example, start by saying “Lovely/wet day, isn’t it?” or “Hope you’re keeping well?” or similar. Then explain that in future you would prefer any comments he or she may have about you to be made personally and in private because then you can fully understand the comments and have the opportunity to learn from them. You may have to do this a few times before the sniper recognizes that his or her perceived gain from making jokes or snipes in public is outweighed by the loss of self-esteem when you speak to him or her privately.

This article was originally posted on the The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs