Do you find it annoying when people say these things in meetings?

“That won’t work.”

“We’ve tried that before.”

“We can’t do that.”

“Can we circle back and reconsider X.”

“I’m still not sure we made the right decision.”

People like this are Blockers and their behavior sabotages meetings.

Blockers frequently raise objections and circle back to topics when others have moved on.  They are one of several different types of saboteurs (learn more about the Advocator and Attacker), and they can do just as much damage to meeting productivity as the others. If you want to get the best, most innovative ideas from your team, you need to  maintain psychological safety while managing the Blocker’s behavior.

Here are three tips to do it:

  1. Ask why? Uncover the true reason the Blockers are objecting by asking why they said what they said. Perhaps they have valuable information and are correct. In this case, they aren’t blocking; they are making a valuable contribution to the meeting (we want that). But if they are intentionally derailing the meeting they are doing it out of fear or self-interest. So, ask them ‘why’ with curiosity and respect.  “Why do you say that?” “Why do you think that?” You can even mix it up the way you ask – “Help me understand why you say that.”  “Can you share why you think that?”
  2. Ask for a solution. Just as with ‘asking why?’, you will find out if the Blockers are derailing the meeting out of fear or self-interest or if they have something valuable to share (which means they aren’t really a Blocker). If they are trying to bring value, help them be part of the solution by making space to share their ideas. “What do you suggest we do instead?” “How would you do it differently?” “What ideas do you have to fix it?”  If they are just sabotaging meeting efforts, ask for a solution to set an expectation that when a person shares an objection, they also need to share a remedy. This can help curb future Blocker behaviors too.
  3. Stay on track. Don’t let the Blocker slow progress by circling back to meeting topics that have already been covered. It’s annoying to everyone in the meeting. Acknowledge the Blocker briefly, and then refocus on the topic at hand. It might sound something like this, “I hear you, and to respect everyone’s time, we are going to stay focused on the current topic.” Or “Let’s table that for now and see if we have time at the end of the meeting to circle back.” Of course, if they have a legitimate reason to circle back (such as new information), they aren’t really a Blocker; adjust your meeting accordingly.

Your job as a meeting facilitator or meeting leader is to run an effective meeting. When you do, people will show up on time, contribute appropriately, and want to be there.  Don’t you want that?

Annoyed by meeting behaviors? I can help. Just reach out.