Addressing problematic behavior in a meeting

This relies on the Facilitation Guide as a foundation. It was also written for NAC in particular so all of it may not be applicable for all groups. Hopefully it is still helpful. 

At public meeting there may be people attending who don’t have other outlets to talk with people about radical ideas and they may not have experience working in facilitated spaces. These practices help us all to keep our meetings a safe space and keep us accountable to our norms.



Something to say could be…

Ignoring stack

Enforce process agreements

“We’re using stack to make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. A reminder that [person] has the floor now, and then [person].”

Talking over others, taking up a lot of space

Maintain/regain focus

“Parking lot”

Interrupt and make space for others

“I need to stop you here so we can stay on the agenda. There will be time to talk at break or after the gathering.”

“Does it pertain to the current agenda item? If not, we really do need to move on.”

“This isn’t an appropriate time to delve into that conversation. We could add it to an agenda for a future meeting if you’d like?”

“I’ve notice that you’ve had a lot to say today, so I’m going to ask that you wait until others have had a chance to contribute.”

Subtle bigotry

Protect others from personal attack

Call out the behavior

“That language is offensive and disrespectful, and it is not welcome in this space.”

“It sounds like you’re [blaming, shaming, targeting]. Please be more mindful of the words you’re using.”

“You are continuing to use language that is harmful, and it is not okay. You can choose to stop or leave.”

Privileged fragility

Say what’s going on

Deal with it or defer

“I hear that you’re feeling [unheard, uncomfortable, confused, whatever], and want feedback and affirmation. We do not have the time to give you what you want right now.”

“You were asked to step back because it is disruptive to the group.”

“Would you be willing to sit with how you feel for 10 minutes and see if anything changes for you?”

“Would it be helpful to check in one-on-one with someone after the meeting?”

No security culture

Call in security culture norms

“This kind of conversation can put you or our comrades at risk.”

“For my own safety, I’d prefer conversations about illegal actions happen away from this meeting space.”


Assessment (ongoing process)

  • Take time to assess the situation
    • How are other participants looking?
    • How are you feeling?
  • Are you the best person to intervene?
    • Be aware of power dynamics, your own triggers, group need
    • Consider what is being corrected – beware of tone policing
  • Is the person’s thinking of behavior impaired? If so, they may respond in unpredictable ways
  • Is the way you are responding helping?
  • What is the person telling you about their needs through their behavior?

Strategies to deescalate tensions

  • Use the person’s name if you know it
  • Use reflective listening to help them feel heard; create clarity by summarizing their point
    • “I hear how angry and passionate you are about this situation.”
    • “You’re upset because you’ve shared a personal view that not everyone here agrees with.”
  • Offer choices, alternatives, options
    • “If being here is not working for you, can I help you find a place to take a break?”
  • Statements of understanding before requests
    • “You have every right to share about your personal experience. Let’s get back to the agenda, and I can help you find a way to connect with the group outside of this meeting.”
  • Allow for silence and reflection
  • Allow time for decisions
  • Mirror technique/co-regulation
    • If someone is shouting you can try amplifying yourself initially and slowly lower your voice – they may mirror you and lower their voice as well
    • Model deep breaths and visible body calming techniques
  • “Vibes” hand signal, group can take deep breaths/stretch together, take a break, pause
  • Find areas of common ground – revisit group norms and principles

After situation is resolved

  • Thank everyone for being present and seeing through internal conflict
  • Ask if there are group or individual needs that should be met before moving forward
  • Orient the group to the agenda, what is on topic/next for discussion


Any questions? Additional ideas to include in this guide? Things that could be simpler? Other feedback? Please send them to: