On a long bus ride to my parent's farm, I finished reading The Slap – the Australian novel about a man who slaps another couple's child at a neighborhood barbeque. Among its many themes, the book asks whether a person has the right to discipline someone else's child.
Perhaps I was hallucinating after eight hours without Wi-Fi, but I began to laugh at the symmetry between bad behavior in children and bad behavior in adults during a brainstorm.
Do you recognize any of these people and their bad behaviors in your brainstorms?
Self-involved. They believe their every idea is perfect, deflecting any criticism as cheap judgment or jealous sentiment.
Not seeing the value in another’s idea. They pounce on other’s ideas, finding fault immediately instead of waiting for the end of the brainstorm for honest discussion and critique.
Refusing to compromise. Overly protective, they refuse to consider options how their idea might be adapted to improve it. Any suggestion to merge it with another idea to create an even better idea is shot down as unreasonable or impossible.
Playing favorites. They’ll rally in their friend’s defense, for either an idea or an opinion, but just as quickly will drop the loyalty if the same consideration isn’t a two-way street.
Interrupting. Remember the time you had a good idea and begin to share it with the group? Before you've finished, you find yourself competing for the group’s attention because this person had already moved on to another idea – and probably, his idea.
Hogging all the toys. They take the floor as a general raids enemy lands. They might use it as a soap box to demonsrate their intelligence, sing their brilliance, or air their grievances. Worst of all, they grab the pen from the facilitator and assert their dominance.
Sulking. Every now and then, the group will gang up on the offender. From that moment on, they’ll sit back from the group, ignoring requests to rejoin the meeting.
Mine, mine, mine! Like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, they jealously circle their ideas, guarding it from people who they think are not only trying to steal the idea, but also the limelight that may go with it.
Not saying please or thank you. Manners, schmanners.
Here are some suggestions on how to bring discipline to a brainstorm.
Use humor. This is the most effective "velvet glove" way to deal with and deflect poor behavior in a brainstorm. More common disciplinary actions – those suitable for children, for example – can be destructive to a brainstorm where confrontation can easily shut down creativity among the non-offending people. Keeping things light also shows your commitment to a positive environment.
That said, as the senior authority or the facilitator, you need to gently but firmly ...
Enforce the rules. They're there for a reason. Of course, rules are often ignored, so dispassionate reminders are essential.
Assert control. Nip in the bud poor behavior when you see it.
Selectively ignore. Sometimes behavior is acting out or testing. Don't bring attention to it until necessary.
Be clear on your expectations from the beginning. A conversation in advance can be helpful to explain the agenda and process, so everyone - not just the offending person - understands what will happen, how a risk-free environment will be followed by appropriate critique, and when.
Call time-outs. If things get too destructive or negative, calling for a break is a good way to clear the air and re-boot the brainstorm.
As a last resort, you may find yourself having to ask the offending person to leave. Or, if it's possible, don't invite them in the first place. More often than not, you'll find you have to include them, and if so, try to conduct your own brainstorm before or after their involvement so you can still generate the ideas you need for the assignment.
How else have you dealt with negative behavior in brainstorms?