Associations are groups of people or companies in the same profession or industry or with similar interests working toward a common goal. By definition, when groups of people get together to take some action, there will be discussions, debates, and disagreement. It’s also true that whenever a group of people get together there will almost always be at least one person with a negative outlook on things.
The art of being a successful association leader is knowing how best to help a group reach consensus. Part of that art is learning how to effectively handle negativity during your meetings.
Here’s a definition from dictionary.com: Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and skeptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. Negative outcomes are bad outcomes, like losing a game, getting a disease, suffering an injury, or getting something stolen.
Negativity can occur in many different ways but the most common is “that one person”. You know the one, he/she never has a kind word to say, sees the bad in everything and is often very vocal – the one with the black cloud hanging over his/her head. That negative input, if not handled properly can change the tone of a meeting, change the energy of an event, and even change the direction of an association.
So, what are some tools you can use to handle that negativity?
- How the meeting is organized can have a major impact. Make sure you have an agenda for the meeting that clearly articulates the decisions that need to be made and provides the information necessary to make those decisions. Make sure that agenda is distributed at least one week and preferably two weeks prior to the meeting.
- Using the Consent Agenda format can be helpful too. Consent agendas keep your group focused on the important things – the decisions that need to be made, actions that need to be taken and progress on the organization’s key metrics. They keep your group from spending unnecessary time talking about reports and things that don’t impact the overall goals of the organization. (Those are hot bed areas for negativity and you avoid them with the Consent agenda)
- Agenda approval, right after “minutes approval” on the agenda is also important to keep focus. If anyone has an item to add to the agenda, it MUST BE DONE UNDER AGENDA APPROVAL. There should be no “other business” item at the end of your agenda unless it is used to consider an item added to the agenda. All this is designed, not to silence anyone, but to help the chair create focus.
- How you run your meeting also has a major impact on whether it’s positive or negative. Set the ground rules for the meeting upfront and make them clear to everyone. Describe what needs to be accomplished during the meeting (articulate goals for the meeting) and what the process will be to get everyone’s input and come to the consensus required. For example, after describing the desired outcome, tell everyone something like, “Thank you for participating in today’s meeting. Everyone’s input into this decision is important and valued. To assure we arrive at consensus and to make sure everyone’s input is heard, please don’t repeat something that’s already been shared and keep your comments positive and productive. We are all on the same team working toward a common goal. Thank you.”
- Of course, even if you have organized your meeting well, provided the information in advance of the meeting in a Consent agenda format and laid the groundwork for how the meeting will be run properly, you may still have that person who is negative. How do you keep them from dominating the discussion or harming it with their negative input? It’s not easy, but you can do it.
- First suggestion is to not let them take over your meeting with their comments. Use polite interruptions such as, “Thank you for that input John. Let’s hear what Joe has to say on this subject as well.” Or, “You have some excellent points John. I wonder if Joe has some new points he’d like to make?”.
- Sometimes of course, that negative person doesn’t get the hint and you may have to be a little more direct but always positive and polite. You can try saying something like, “Thank you John. I think we all have a clear understanding of your position. Let’s see if anyone else has input they’d like to share.” Or, “Thank you John. That point has been made. Let’s see if there are any new points anyone would like to discuss.”
- When redirecting the conversation from the negative person, always try to direct it toward someone you know will be positive. Negativity is contagious (so is positivity by the way).
At CM Services, our team of association professionals use Board and Committee orientation and training to help our association leaders learn to build consensus in positive ways. Click here to view some of the training we have done for our leaders.
If you’d like help with Board training, planning or overall management, contact Rick Church, CM Services’ President & Head Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep your meetings positive and effective!