General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

When someone's inability to understand holds up a meeting

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I posted in the Exchanges that Make Your Brain Hurt thread about my coworker I'm calling Granite. Granite is a nice guy, and good at the parts of our team's function that he's responsible for, but he doesn't understand the other parts (which I am partly responsible for) as well as he thinks he does.

The problem is that when he misunderstands or doesn't understand something, he'll argue about it until he's blue in the face. I don't know if we aren't explaining things well or he's just being dense, but this always results in the team going around in circles, us trying to explain in increasingly simple terms and Granite missing every point we throw or deflecting it because cuss it all to tarnation, he's right, the sky *is* green paisley! Friday's meeting was supposed to be half an hour, but it dragged on for more than an hour because no matter how simply we explained things, Granite either couldn't or wouldn't accept that he'd misunderstood how the piece in question works and the functionality he was trying to shoehorn in was completely out of our scope. It's interfering with my work because it wastes time that I need to complete my components, and it's gotten so that I cringe internally every time he opens his mouth.

So, I guess I'm looking for a polite, professional way to tell Granite "You're holding up the meeting. Drop it because we have work to do and I want to get my component built before midnight!" I know I can't flat-out day "No, Granite, you're WRONG." and I can't just brain him with my notebook and be done with it, as tempting as it is. Hopefully it wouldn't be too unprofessional to just say "I have to go work on my green flibblewobbles now" and leave when he gets going.

Whoever is leading the meeting needs to redirect the meeting.  If no one is leading, then someone needs to be selected who is good and keeping things on track.  In response to his repeated attempts to derail the meeting, the response would be, "Granite, John Doe will go over this with you after the meeting.  Now, Jane, status on the whatchamacallit deal -- where are we?"  Essentially, bean dip him.  If that doesn't work, then someone needs to take him aside and tell him his behavior in meetings needs to cease (like a supervisor).

"You're holding up the meeting. Drop it because we have work to do and I want to get my component built before midnight!" is pretty close to it.

"Granite, I understand that you have some issues with the current topic. In order for us to move forward let's have an offline discussion about those issues." Even better if you can give him a task of documenting and explaining his issues. You can then give his document all the consideration that it deserves.

You need someone in charge of the meeting (you?) with a spine of steel. Don't be afraid of saying "I hear you, but we're not considering that point today. Now, Betty, about the horizontal bearing in the scoop, should it be red or green?" I've been blunt and told people "sorry, that aspect isn't under discussion today." Or even "no, we're not going there."

One technique is to have more, shorter meetings. Keep them to a specific topic  or limited agenda and don't go over schedule. It's amazing how you can keep people focused after they figure out that 30 minutes is 30 minutes and they have to stay on topic.

Why yes, I've got one of these people to deal with. Now, can you help me figure out to how to keep my cool when someone says "why are we doing/not doing X? There are very good reasons why this is the wrong path." I wouldn't mind, except that he does it 3-6 months after we've made the decision and he said nothing when the decision was first made. Yes, it's the same person.

I posted in the other thread that I'm not a huge fan of the "Let's talk afterward" tactic, because nine times out of ten that means "I've decided not to take you into account while we make the decision, so when we talk it will be futile whether or not you're right."  It's a pretty public blow-off.  If Granite sees that you're all hell-bent on painting your widget pink and the customer is extremely likely to want it pink today and blue tomorrow and purple on Saturday, I can understand not wanting to waste his time or yours with painting it just yet.

That said, the best thing to do is to take his argument into account.  "Granite, I don't think your point applies at the moment, and I'm afraid we don't have time in the meeting to address it.  Please send me an email explaining your argument after we finish and how you best think we could change from our current path to the one you're advocating, and I'll take a look.  We will make changes if they need to be made.  For right now, let's get back to deciding which shade of pink we want."

(Email --> he has to explain his argument in one place, and can't just keep filibustering like he could in an in-person exchange.)

I have a collaborator who is like this. He is actually senior to me by a long shot but respects my views and is ok with taking direct feedback. What I've said in the past is something like "In the interest of time, since we only have 20 minutes left to meet, can we get back to this later and move on to X?" It helps if others pipe up and say "yeah that's a good idea, we running out of time."


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