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How to handle when someone walks out

When someone walks out of a meeting, upset, what is your responsibility if you are the meeting leader?

Not surprisingly, Craig wants group peace and harmony. What might surprise you is how to achieve that when someone walks out.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

It’s happened a few times in my career that I’ve been leading a meeting and something got said or got done that caused somebody to up and walk out; maybe even with slamming doors. If I’m leading a meeting and somebody walks out, what is my responsibility to the group and to that person?

I think that my highest responsibility is to the group and to help the group meet their objectives and help the group find peace and harmony.

Many times conflict is resolved by somebody leaving the group or leaving the relationship. It’s about fit. If a person is not fitting in with where the group is headed — if a person decides that this particular relationship is not a good fit for them — maybe the very best thing to do is to leave.

We have this idea in our heads — a false idea I think — that that’s not okay; that when somebody leaves we should stop the meeting, go get that person, bring them back in here, find out what’s the matter, and do everything we can as a group to accommodate their needs. But I think that that can have negative consequences in two ways.

For one, it can seriously sidetrack the group. We were working on this thing and maybe everybody else was doing a good job and in favor of this thing,  and now we all have to spend our time and energy to help this person fit. It can be hugely inefficient.

Secondly, it can perpetuate a conflict that — you know what — it might be unsolvable. In fact, that person walking out might have solved it just like that! Let’s let that be solved. Let’s let that go.

That person made a choice and in fact, by not stopping the meeting, by not following after them and making a big deal, I’m actually honoring their choice. I’m also honoring the group by staying on course. This is how I, as a meeting facilitator, see my responsibility to the group, help them meet their objectives, and help them find peace and harmony.

Thanks for listening everybody! I hope that you help your group make good decisions.

6 thoughts on “How to handle when someone walks out

  1. You should not walk out of a meeting. It is rude to everyone present. I reflects that you are a misfit. I have been in some pretty heated meetings, and the best way to resolve the issue is to call the meeting to an end and say that perhaps a meeting is not the best way to resolve the issue and discuss the issue one-on-one. It is very unprofessional to just walk out.

  2. There are other situations where the person walking out isn’t the problem person. Example… in a teleconference I walked, not in anger at all. The meeting facilitator had 1 person present their idea. Then the facilitator asked me to present my method for obtaining information from a defective vehicle. The moment I spoke , 1 individual who presented before me started talking over me and would not stop talking about the my idea was not feasible. When I waited for him to catch his breath, I stated that my name was “Greg”, the question was posed to the person named “Greg” and I was the only “Greg” on the conference phone call. I should be allowed to answer the question and present my information (completely) without interruptions. The other guy just stared ranting again. So I hung up… I left because another person was not respecting others. Yes, the moderator called me on separate phone to rejoin. So I did. After the first 3 words, the other person started speaking over me again. This time I asked to have quiet so I could present. The other guy kept babbling… I muted my phone, sat back and waited >60 seconds listening to the other fellow babble/rant/yell and the facilitator arguing about letting other people speak. Personally, I if were the facilitator on this meeting I would have rescheduled the meeting for the next day without the dis-respectful “other guy” person. So there’s a real example of the person who walked out of a meeting (me). I didn’t walk out because it didn’t want my blood pressure increased. I left because it was hostile environment.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Stacey.

    I totally agree that a “walker-outer” should be talked with afterwards and communicated with.

  4. What if the person had a good reason to walk out, though? Maybe the meeting was getting heated? This seems like too dismissive of an attitude. Obviously, chasing after them is not a good idea and is too disruptive, but ignoring the situation is also very unprofessional. They should be talked with afterwards and communicated with.

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