Common Meeting Problems - Community Engagement - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Common Meeting Problems

Most meetings will run into problems at one time or another. You're only in trouble when they persist for all the meetings. Your best bet with a problem is to deal with it right away. By studying these potential problems and solutions, you'll be prepared to handle any situation in a meeting.

The group can't get started

Do group members have enough information? Do they understand that they need to/are expected to participate? Do they understand the directions for the task/activity at hand? Ask someone to rephrase the discussion topic.

Are the directions clear? Avoid giving more than three directions at one time. Was sufficient information presented, or is more information needed? Was the information understood by all?


In a discussion, some groups expect the leader to do all the talking. However, your job is to get the group members to talk. Sometimes this results in silence. If you are sure the group understands the discussion topic, and there is silence, try to wait out the group members. You can remain silent for two to three minutes. People may need some time to think before they respond. Meeting silence with silence of your own puts the responsibility on the group members and takes it off your shoulders.

One member dominates the discussion

Some people like to dominate discussions in order to display their knowledge, exert control, and/or appear important. As facilitator, give everyone a chance to participate. Examples:

  • How do the rest of you feel about that idea?
  • OK, that's a good point; may we move on to someone else?
  • We've heard from Chris; now, let's hear from the rest of you.
  • Chris, in order to give everyone here a chance to discuss their viewpoints, I am calling time on this discussion.

Someone says, "Too theoretical"

Someone complains that it's "too pie-in-the-sky, too much theory, let's get down to the real world." Point out that some learning styles differ and that some learn more quickly if they grasp theory first. Check yourself to see if they are offering too much theory. Are you trying to spoon-feed everything to the group? Listen for more truth in these complaints and make your judgments.

Members lack experience/confidence in group settings

Some members of your group may have had negative experiences in school and/or have negative attitudes toward anything that resembles education. Others may have experience put-downs and criticism of their ideas and thoughts in group settings. Because of that, their confidence in their ability to interact may be low, making them hesitant to participate in discussions and activities. Reassure them that their ideas and experiences are important. Re-emphasize the ground rules. Do not be critical of their viewpoints. Trust will need to be established before the person(s) participate freely.

Topic gets too heated

Some discussions may generate controversy. When this happens, it is not important to reach consensus on the topic. You may need to bridge the controversy, so you can get on with other important tasks. Examples:

  • "We have two viewpoints here. Are there any others?"
  • "This really isn't the place to settle this issue, so let's move on to the next topic."

The solution may lie somewhere between the two views expressed. The most important thing is that you consider what aspects of these views are acceptable to you. Remember the group should examine all sides. Remind the group that in this discussion there isn't one right answer, so all views are encouraged.

"Yes, but..."

Don't try to counter comments starting with, "yes, but…." Invite that person to say what she/he thinks, honor it, and go on with the meeting.

"That will never work"

Pessimists will often challenge new ideas with this comment. Maybe it won't work, but you need to explore it with the group. Examples:

  • Let's examine the things which will help us accomplish ____, and the road blocks we may encounter. How could we get around those road blocks?"
  • "It may not work for you, but it may work for someone else in the group."
  • "Sometimes it looks like it won't work at first. But how do you know until you try it? By trying it, you may find a much better and more creative solution to share next time with the group!"

Disruptive behavior

Occasionally, a person's behavior may disrupt the whole group. When this happens, gently confront those being disruptive in front of the group. Examples:

  • "Marjorie, while we have been discussing ___, you have been moving around a lot. I'm wondering if there is something you are preoccupied with, or some way the group can be helpful to you?"
  • "Bill, this is the third or fourth time we have heard ___ about ___. Are you feeling misunderstood? Here is what I am hearing."

Everyone talks at once

The topic has generated so much discussion that everyone is talking and no one is listening. As a group facilitator, you need to bring order back to the group. Examples:

  • "Time out! Everyone is talking at once, and we are missing some important comments. Let's back up and take one at a time."

You're scared

You can be scared and lead at the same time. Take care of yourself. Think of specific times when you have successfully tackled problems. You are capable!

Accepting personal criticism

Don't take responsibility for the other person's discomfort and change the class, or give a response just to please her/him. Don't be defensive. Don't attack the other person. Do stay respectful of yourself and others. Listen to the criticism. Is there any truth? If not, let it pass; if there is, make the appropriate changes. People won't think for themselves:

People are used to being spoon-fed information, but that is not an effective way to learn. Listen to how you invite them to participate. Ask, rather than demand. Examples: Do say,

  • "Will you…."
  • "I invite you…."
  • "I encourage you…."
  • "Will someone…."
  • "If you are willing…."

These statements supply support and give the respondent some control. The following phrases imply the action is done to please you, the facilitator, rather than for their benefit:

  • "Do me a favor…."
  • "Would you…."
  • "Why don't you…."
  • "Could you…."

Reprinted From: Extension Consultant Manual, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies