Before anything else, learn to anticipate and try to understand. Then decide to tolerate, treat, or trash. Finally don’t forget to debrief…
These were the six generic steps to handle dysfunctional behavior, which we explained in a previous newsletter, and which we train in-depth in our business skills classes.
We also mentioned there were typical cases, requiring specific actions. Here we go! This is your user’s guide – not to say your safety net or your antidote – to:

Handle the 16 most common and typical dysfunctional characters

Let us introduce you to our four first guests: Professor Monopolizer, Lady Drifter, Mr Status Symbol, and Simon Storyteller. All four of them, the derivatives, put you on tangents, make you derail and deviate from your agenda, yet each one absolutely convinced being relevant.

Take the Drifter: she would typically hijack the topic and unfocus the group by talking about irrelevant subjects, with vague or no data, and try to drag everyone along in that ‘adjacent conversation’.

What should you do? Well the overriding response towards a drifter is simply to refocus her. Some specific actions we suggest are to (1) make it clear for everyone that we are on a tangent, (2) remind the group (or the drifter alone, though be careful not to ‘trash’ her) about the objectives, the topics and the agenda, (3) and obviously use the Parking-lot to park the drifted topic.

In the table below, you will find our antidotes to these four characters: a short definition on who they are, the overriding response, and a few examples (not exhaustive) of specific actions.


“The derivatives”





Who is this?

Knows it all, speaks incessantly

Hijacks topics, defocuses group

Uses age, title, tenure to impose

Constantly links to past events

How to respond?

Rebalance the Monopolizer

Refocus the Drifter

Acknowledge status/credentials

Praise Storyteller’s experience

What specific actions?

  • Invite others to speak
  • Move close to him, palm down
  • Break eye contact
  • Introduce talking stick
  • Explain need of balancing airtime
  • Clarify for all we are on a tangent
  • Remind objectives, topics, agenda
  • Put on the parking lot


  • Probe to be specific
  • Make clear everyone equal to talk


  • Ask to focus stories on learnings
  • Give time constraints
  • Remind of balancing airtime



Let us now welcome – even if they don’t hear us – the next four difficult characters: Buz Chatter, Mrs Absenteist, Mr Workaholic, and Joe-the-Joker. These four are distractors, they won’t derail your meeting, they are simply not in your meeting, mentally…

Again, the table below will help you handle them.


“The distractors”





Who is this?

Side conversations adept

Mentally absent, disconnected

Doing other work in the meeting

Abusive humor & jokes

How to respond?

Silence the Chatter

Involve the Absenteist

Confront the Workaholic

Circumvent the Joker

What specific actions?

  • Don’t let him choose neighbors
  • Sit next to him
  • Invite continue speak in the open
  • Pause. Use silence
  • Cold-call, invite on stage
  • Find passion and hot-buttons
  • Make feel welcome
  • Do not tolerate other work
  • Respect groundrules
  • Name the drama
  • Consider offering choice
    to go
  • Define time limits for jokes
  • Say “this is your last one”


The third group we welcome (welcome?) are the disruptives: John Latecomer (“sorry I am late but I had to drop my kids at school and then there was so much traffic on the way”) and his cousin Joan Earlyleaver (“sorry I have to go now because I have to pick up my kids at school and with all that traffic…”), Ir Process Interferer, and Deputy Interrupter.

We have briefly treated the cases of Process Interferers and Latecomers in our previous insight, so here is the antidote-table.

Please note this superb but dangerous comment a facilitator once made to an interrupter: “Sir you might be a constant interrupter, but you seldom bring the light”.


“The disruptives”





Who is this?

Arrives (much) too late

Sorry I have to go now…

Puts process into question, suggests alternative ways

Constantly interrupts others

How to respond?

Deal silently with Latecomer

Deal privately with Early Leaver

Block the Process Interferer

Interrupt the Interrupter

What specific actions?

  • Avoid justifications
  • Remind groundrules
  • Summarize what missed
  • Have 1-on-1 at next break
  • Avoid justifications
  • Remind groundrules
  • Discuss the behavior privately soon after the meeting
  • Establish yourself as only guardian of the meeting process
  • Take Interferer’s input at break
  • Debrief after meeting
  • Invite to review your next script
  • Rescue/help the interrupted
  • Remind of groundrules
  • Name the drama (in soft manner)


And finally, we kept the worst for the end, our gang of destructives: the Opposer (‘Dr No’), the Attacker (‘Darth Attack’), the Cynical, and … well, let’s call him by his name, the Judas.

These require careful and tactful management by the meeting facilitator or the team leader. Learn to spot Judases as they can be so nice during encounters but so harsh behind your back!


“The destructives”





Who is this?

Robotically takes opposite view

Personal, confronting attacks

Negativity & pessimism master

Neutral in meeting,
      bad-mouthing outside

How to respond?

Embrace the Opposer

Rephrase the Attacker

Isolate the Cynical

Spot the Judas!

What specific actions?

  • Listen to understand; ask 5 why’s
  • Be patient; this one will take time
  • Remind “if you oppose, propose”
  • Warn him of the words used
  • Identify underlying facts/reason
  • Check consciousness of attacks
  • Do not tolerate being ‘personal
  • Avoid contagion of any form!
  • Do not invite to the meeting
  • Use ‘walk in each other’s shoes
  • Turn him into ally and promoter
  • Make feel good and shine
  • Confront behavior (after)


These specific solutions come in addition to the generic approach we shared in our previous insight. We give you the tools. Dare to try them out. Build your experience. And you will find the rewards being immense!

If you would like to know more about this topic, or if you have a difficult meeting with high stakes coming up, contact us