While dominant participants contribute significantly to the success of a meeting,
they can also overwhelm, intimidate, and exclude others. Thus, you want to control
their energy without losing their support.
Approach 1: Ask others to contribute
Asking quiet participants to contribute indirectly moderates the more dominant
"Before we continue, I want to hear from the rest of the group."
"This is great. And I wonder what else we could do." (Look at the quiet participants
when you say this.)
Approach 2: Change the process
A balanced dialogue equalizes participation and sequential participation (a round
robin) prevents anyone from dominating the discussion.
Approach 3: Include them in the process
Ask dominant participants for their support during the meeting. Meet with the
person privately and say:
"I need your help with something. It's clear to me that you know a great deal about
this issue and have many good ideas. I also want to hear what other people in the
meeting have to say. So, I wonder if you could hold back a little, to let others
You can also retain control by giving away minor tasks. For example, dominant
participants make excellent helpers. They can distribute materials, run errands,
serve as scribes, deliver messages, post chart papers, run demonstration units,
operate projectors, change overhead transparencies, act as greeters, and in general
perform any logistical task related to the meeting.
Approach 4: Create barriers
Simply move away from the more aggressive participants and make less eye contact.
If you are unable to see them, you are unable to recognize them as the next
Use this approach with moderation and support it with complimentary requests for
assistance. Ignoring someone conveys disapproval, which could change a potential
ally into an adversary.
Approach 5: One point at a time
Sometimes dominant participants will control a discussion by listing many points in
a single statement. They cite every challenge, condition, and consideration known,
which completely clogs everyone else's thinking. End this by asking participants to
state only one point at a time, after which someone else speaks. It is very difficult to
monopolize a discussion when this technique prevails.
Quiet participants often hope to be ignored; dominant participants want to be
noticed. A quiet person may feel overbearing after making two statements in an
hour. A dominant participant may feel left out after contributing only 95% of the
ideas. You will be most successful moderating dominant participants by building
bridges between what they want and what you need.
Approach 6: Interrupt with "excuse me"
Use the words "excuse me" as a wedge to interrupt a long monologue. It's important
that you say "Excuse me" with polite sincerity. For example, you could say:
"Excuse me, this seems interesting and I wonder if you could tell me how it relates
to our meeting."
"Excuse me, I'm sure this is very important and since we have only five minutes left
for this issue, I wonder if you could summarize your main point."
Use these techniques to hold effective meetings by moderating contributions from
the more outspoken participants.
This is the fifth of a seven part article on Managing Monsters in Meetings.
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IAF Certified Professional Facilitator and author Steve Kaye works with leaders who
want to hold effective meeting. His innovative workshops have informed and
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