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Confrontation Issues for CSI Organizations

Confrontation 101 - How to deal with problem people

Although each group and situation is different, here are responses that can be helpful.

When someone exhibits disruptive behavior, begin by accepting what the person is doing – don’t ignore. Acknowledge the action; describe the behavior without evaluating. Check out your perceptions.

Example: Someone makes a loud noise in disapproval of a particular suggestion. “Ann, it looks as though you don’t believe we’ll be able to agree on this. Am I correct?”

You don’t have to agree with the problem person, just acknowledge that it is legitimate to have a different point of view.

Example: “Joan, I know you are concerned. Decision making can be frustrating.”

Record the person’s concern on the group memory (or minutes) and return to the point of business.

Example: “I understand your concern, but let’s give this a chance, OK?”

Graduated Response
In dealing with problem people, always begin with the most subtle and least threatening interventions. Start low key – escalate if necessary, saving direct confrontation as a last resort.

Example: someone talking too much

Initial Intervention

  • Look directly at the person
  • Thank them for the contribution
  • Call on someone else

If the person continues…

  • Move closer physically
  • Invade his/her private space
  • Look him/her in the eye
  • Turn away, call on someone else 

If the disturbance continues…

  • Confront: “What’s going on, Jo? Why are you dominating the meeting and not giving others a chance to talk?” 

As a last resort…

  • Confront in front of the group: “It’s my opinion that you are dominating the meeting. Do the rest of you feel the same way?”

Suggestions for Handling Some of the “Problem People”

  • (Adapted from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Residence Life Department)

The Attacker - This person launches personal attacks on another member of the group. If two of them are arguing, interrupt by physically moving between them, getting them to talk to you rather than yell at each other. Ask questions such as “What’s all this about?” and “What’s the problem here?” Use the rest of the group to refocus on ideas rather than individuals and return the meeting to order. 

The Backseat Driver - This person keeps telling you what you should be doing. As a leader/facilitator, you should request suggestions from the group and generally follow them. If the suggestions get out of hand, point out that there are many different styles of facilitation and many ways of approaching a problem. 

The Busybody - He/she is always ducking in and out of the meeting. In chronic situations, confront this person ahead of time explaining how the interruptions disturb the flow of the meeting. Get the busybody to make a commitment to the meeting time, then you will have some leverage if the individual resumes the behavior. 

The Broken Record - He/she keeps bringing up the same point over and over. Say, “Yes, I know that point is important to you. We have recorded it in the minutes.” If the individual is really worked up over the issue you could suggest, “Why don’t we take three minutes now to hear what you have to say, so you can let go of it. We want you to be able to free your mind so you can move along with us through the rest of the meeting.” 

The Dropout - This person sits at the back of the room, doesn’t say anything, doodles and/or reads other things. This person is more disrupting to the leader than the rest of the group. During a break, ask him/her why he/she is not participating. 

The Early Leaver - Don’t confront this person in front of the group. Find out later why this disruptive behavior continues. At the beginning of the meeting check to see if everyone can stay until the end. 

The Gossiper - This person introduces hearsay and gossip into the meeting. Check out the information immediately, saying “Do you know that for a fact?” or “Can anyone else verify that?” Defer the issue until after the information can be obtained, or take a short break to make a phone call. 

The Headshaker - This person displays nonverbal behavior that disagrees in a dramatic and disruptive manner. Eye rolling, crossing and uncrossing legs, slamming books shut, pushing chairs back, madly scribbling notes, etc. Sometimes the person is unaware of his/her behavior. Address the behavior by confronting the person. For example, you could say, “Steve, I see you’re shaking your head. Looks like you disagree. Do you want to share your reactions with the rest of the group?” 

The Interpreter - This person is always speaking for other people. “What Bob is trying to say is…” If Bob is in the middle of talking, jump in quickly and say, “Hold on a minute Adam, let Bob speak for himself. Go on Bob; finish with what you were saying.” 

The Interrupter - Deal with this one immediately. People will be watching to see if you are really going to be neutral, assertive, and protective of the group. “Hold on Joan, let Donna finish what she was saying.” You must be impartial and fair in your interventions. Try making an interrupter be a secretary or recorder – taking notes is a good exercise in listening. 

The Know-It-All - This person uses credentials, age, length of membership, or past positions to argue a point. Acknowledge this member’s expertise once, but emphasize why the issue is being considered by the group. 

The Latecomer - After the meeting ask why he/she is late so frequently. Don’t lecture. Make sure your meetings begin on time. (If at the appointed hour only a few people have arrived, let them decide when to begin.) Do not stop the meeting to review for latecomers; acknowledge his/her presence and tell him/her to catch up by reviewing the minutes of the meeting. 

The Loudmouth - This type of person dominates the meeting. He/she is often a senior member or past leader of the group, which makes dealing with him/her even more difficult for the current leaders of the group. Try moving closer and closer and maintain eye contact, then immediately shift your focus and call on someone else. Cut in, “How do the rest of your feel about that?” Deal with this person outside of the meeting. Often this type of person needs to blurt out ideas as soon as they come into their heads. Suggest that they take notes or serve as a recorder for the group. 

The Whisperer - This person is constantly whispering to a neighbor and is one of the most irritating of the problem people. Try walking up close. If a lot of whispering is going on, try saying “Hey, let’s keep a single focus here! We won’t be very productive if people are going off in different directions.” Ask a couple of whisperers “Do you want to share what you’re talking about with the rest of the group? If not, why don’t you go outside the room and talk? We still have a lot of things to accomplish here.” Try to separate the chronic whisperers from each other ahead of time.