4 Ways to Manage Disruptive Behavior in One-On-One Meetings

February 7, 2019

by Kimberly Devlin

It would be convenient if one-on-one meetings were somehow exempt from disruptions caused by the two participants. In reality, they aren’t. Whether pleasant conversations with people whose company you enjoy or tense conversations, one-on-one meetings can require you to manage disruptions.

Reality Check: Do you approach one-on-one meetings expecting an easy flow from one agenda item to the next?  If so, read on…

The challenges that plague larger meetings can be equally disruptive to conversations—they just may surface differently in the smaller setting. For example:

  • Tangents can sound more like stream-of-conscious chatter—but they still take you off task.
  • Disengaging can look like multi-tasking, allowing interruptions, or being more attentive to what is happening nearby than the conversation itself—but it still disrupts the flow of the discussion.
  • Too much humor can feel like catching up with a friend—but it still restricts productivity.

In a meeting with greater participation, the group often calls attention to these behaviors by expressing frustration – loud sighs, eye rolling, or directly confronting the behavior that is wasting their time. When there are only two of you, your loss of focus may go unnoticed more easily and longer. When you get along well, unrelated topics may be more fun and interesting than the agenda. When you don’t get along, either of you may try to sidestep issues, deflect blame, avoid taking responsibility for action items, or withdraw.

Here are four simple strategies to ensure productive one-on-one meetings:

  1. Begin with a question. Start off by asking: “Is this still a good time for you?” If it isn’t, you don’t want to begin only to find the other person distracted, rushed, or uninterested.
  2. Stay alert. Recognize and react to behavior shifts as they are occurring. Small shifts back to focus will be easier to make, but you need to notice the behaviors to account for them.
  3. Actions trump words. Place greater emphasis on what body language communicates than the words being said when the two are incongruent. When words say one thing and tone, posture, or facial expressions say another—chances are that the real message is going unspoken. Being attentive to body language requires listening with your eyes and your ears.
  4. Take a break or plan to reconvene at another time. If the meeting is not achieving its goals, and there are only two of you, either one or both of you are the cause. Consider whether a short intermission or an extended hiatus will lead to a better outcome and reconnect then.

Looking for more guidance on boosting your productivity in group and one-on-one meetings? This post is based on Don’t Waste My Time:Expert Secrets for Meetings that Inspire, Engage and Get Results, which is full of tips and strategies ​to help you be more productive before, during, and after every meeting.

Kimberly Devlin transforms information overload and time crunch into innovative and actionable systems that improve outcomes, productivity, and time management. Her latest book, Don’t Waste My Time: Expert Secrets for Meetings That Inspire, Engage, and Get Results is filled with strategies guaranteed to help you be more productive before, during, and after every meeting. She is a managing director at EdTrek, Inc., where she is passionate about productivity and on a mission to change the way we learn and work… because your time is too precious to waste.  Connect with her here and on LinkedIn.