Q: There is a woman in our office who practically dominates all our departmental staff meetings, which I chair. She frequently interrupts and employees seem to be intimidated by her overbearing style. I am thinking of speaking with her. Your suggestions?
A: It is unfortunate this employee is making life so unpleasant for others (including you); however, before considering a course of action, ask yourself whether the current situation developed as a result of your inaction.
I would assume her behavior is something you’ve been aware of for some time – it will likely be now more difficult for you to address the situation as she has become accustomed to being aggressive at the meetings.
Nonetheless, you can still salvage the matter and affirm your role as chair.
You have released some of your authority to her which must be assumed at the earliest opportunity.
If you are a male, the situation should be treated with more sensitivity as she may view you as competition for influence to some extent: her domineering manner has essentially been directed at you, so be careful.
If you are a female, caution should also be exercised; however, there won’t be the same potential for gender-related issues.
Here are a few ideas you could think about: Consider rotating the role of chair — if you feel comfortable doing so — and allow all attendees to have their turn. This would allow her to experience being chair which she may relish.
Rotating the chair would also allow you to sense whether her antagonistic manner is intended for you personally or is a general character trait.
You might also be more systematic in the way in which you organize the agenda with firm times dedicated to each item. Her lengthy interruptions would obviously conflict with this model which may discourage her.
You could consider a “round table” approach for comments which would give all attendees the opportunity to share. She may recognize she is dramatically out of sync with co-workers and moderate her disruptions.
In any case, be wary about speaking with her personally. Her reaction could be unpredictable and she may even become more combative.
Be somewhat more assertive and consider using different techniques to engage attendees – including rotating the role of chair – in order to provide modeling for this very difficult employee.
Simon Gibson is a university professor, marketing executive, corporate writer and civic leader. He is a graduate of four public universities, including Simon Fraser University, where he earned his doctorate in education. He also also holds a degree in journalism (honours) from Carleton University. His email address can be found here.