What to Do When the Meeting Turns Ugly

You can take the initiative without looking like a suck up.

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GL Hoffman
Business meetings have a way of "going south," especially if an authority figure is not present. It is human nature to complain, even whine a little, and we are all very good at piling it on.

Someone told me once that "the more you stir it, the more it stinks," and it happens in some business meetings—they go negative and in no time at all, it does tend to stink. People are upset, no solutions are found, and what started out as problem identification becomes another episode of Chicken Little's THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING. People leave the meeting unmotivated and unsettled. What are we going to do??

Most leaders recognize when this happens and can turn the situation around, if only by their position or authority. No one wants to be seen as being negative by the boss.

Don't get me wrong. It is perfectly fine to identify, even strongly voice, internal problems and issues. After all, what gets talked about gets fixed. What I am talking about are those meetings that turn into full-fledged bitch-and-moan sessions, where usually the participants are at the same relative level, age or authority-wise.

What can you do if you are in this situation and you are NOT the boss? First, a comment from a boss-type: There is nothing that more identifies a future company leader than observing someone handle this situation without seeming to do the old boss suck-up routine.

Three quick ideas to try:

  • Say something like: "I am not sure they are paying us only to complain; how can we fix it?"
    • Go up to the board and start writing down all the "issues." Draw a line along the side, and mark it "suggestions."
      • Say something positive to turn the situation around.
      • What other ideas do you think would work?

        G.L. Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur and venture investor/operator/incubator/mentor. Two of his companies have traveled the entire success path from the garage to IPO. Currently, he is chairman of JobDig and his blog can be found at WhatWouldDadSay.com or at JobDig.com.