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How Can I Keep Someone From Dominating a Team Session?

When someone is monopolizing the discussion, you need to step in to draw out contributions from the rest of the group. Give the individual time to have his say, then interrupt and ask for others’ opinions. While you don’t want to put any one member on the spot, you might want to ask Jack or Jill what he or she thought about the previous comments or the discussion so far.

No volunteers? That can happen. Sometimes, a participant may have such a dominant personality that he or she intimidates the other participants so they just don’t want to disagree with him or her. They may even feel uncomfortable in the same room with the individual. Under such circumstances, you may want to select someone else to attend your meeting. If you can’t do that, then you may have to speak to the person privately.

A little conversation on the side can help to put an end to negative behavior by a member when the member fails to take heed of the leader’s reaction—in words and body language—to dysfunctional behavior.

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Let’s assume that someone has gone further than just disagree with someone’s comment, even said something like, "Jim, I never knew just how limited your thinking was until now." Then you might say to the group, "I’d like to hear Jim out." Or you might remind the attacker not to prejudge.

If the attacker is attributing the member’s comments to an issue of turf or some other questionable motive, you might say to the person, "We’re interested in what Jim has to say, not why he is saying it."

Let’s assume that the attacker has a political motive for his or her remark. Further, you suspect the group agrees. Under such circumstances, as meeting chair, it doesn’t pay to ignore the remark. You might want to ask the person outright if he or she might be defensive or concerned about the life expectancy of a "sacred cow." You might even go as far as one operating group, which has a stuffed toy resembling a cow and the "sacred cow" is passed to participants who exhibit signs of trying to keep certain topics untouchable because they are politically sensitive.

If none of these tactics works during the meeting, then you need to meet with the offending member(s) between meetings. Remind him or her about the ground rules by which the meetings are run. If the behavior is interfering with the open, positive, productive environment you want, you need to make them aware of it.