How to Manage Meeting Mayhem

BY Kathy Crosett
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Not every meeting will go as planned. One of the worst-​case scenarios you may encounter is a client meeting that is quickly going off the rails. Your leadership skills in this situation may determine the outcome of the long-​term relationship with the client. The management style you display can also teach your team members how to handle these kinds of encounters in the future.

Shutting Down Emotional Outbursts

When a client or a business partner begins to get emotional in a meeting, that’s a sign of trouble. She may be upset about something that happened in her personal life and is transferring that negative energy onto you and your team during a meeting. Or, she may honestly be angry about a development in your business partnership – such as an unfair split in revenue or the fact that someone in your organization made a key decision without consulting her.

The key to successfully resolving the problem and preserving the relationship is to hold your fire. If you allow your emotional buttons to be pushed and the meeting turns into a shouting match, everyone loses. And, your team members have learned you have a problem with your temper.

When the other party in the meeting loses her cool, react calmly. Repeat what you believe the problem is. Once you get her to confirm what’s upsetting her, suggest a resolution if you have one. If you need to investigate the situation further, terminate the meeting and reconvene when you have enough information to proceed.

Outwitting the Bully Client

Meetings can also go awry when a client or business partner starts on a line of questioning that you’re not prepared to deal with. There’s nothing worse than standing in front of a somewhat contentious group of people who are determined to show how intelligent they are, at your expense. Thom Crowley, in a Fast Company article, recommends using the “I Don’t Know” strategy in these situations. It’s hard to know why an individual has launched into a marginally or completely unrelated line of questioning during your presentation. He may be trying to get a promotion from the boss who’s sitting next to him. Or, he may favor another vendor and is determined to make you look bad.

You can shine by admitting that you’re not a complete expert on his business or industry. Explain that you are trying to apply your expertise – whether it’s accounting or human resource management – to his business needs. This tactic emphasizes the collaborative, not the competitive nature of your relationship. In most cases, the querulous person across the table will settle down and agree that it’s in everyone’s best interests to work together on the task that’s facing all of you.

By displaying your inner Spock during emotional meetings, you show your team members how to turn around a bad situation.