Certain people are disrupting our team meetings with their behaviors

Certain people are disrupting our team meetings with their behaviors—everything from side conversations to zoning out on their computers to interrupting the speaker to rolling their eyes all the time. What do I do?
Inconsiderate behavior or overeager participants can severely disrupt a meeting, interfering with pace, energy level, positive atmosphere, and issue resolution. Often what is needed is simply to coach participants on the most effective way to participate. They may not realize what they're doing. Or they may be well aware of what they're doing but have no idea those behaviors would be considered negative. (Perhaps that Type A meeting-hog sincerely thinks he's helping drive the meeting to good decisions.)

Meeting facilitators can accomplish a lot of good even during the meeting, providing they know how to handle the situation tactfully. Our guideline Preventing and Solving Meeting Disruptions provides ideas and suggestions for handling the most common kinds of meeting disrupters without dragging the meeting off track or making the person feel attacked.

In some cases, offline one-on-one discussions may be needed. The best advice there is to start by giving the person the benefit of the doubt. We doubt that many people go to meetings explicitly planning to disrupt them! So assume that the problem participant means well in general. Then be ready to state objectively the problem you see occurring, not in terms of their behavior so much as in terms of what you're trying to accomplish. For example, to that meeting hog, "I realize you have a lot of great ideas on this subject and want to help us reach a decision. I'm just concerned about making sure the other people have their say, especially the quiet ones." And turn it immediately into an opportunity to solve a problem together. "How could we run the meeting, or do some work ahead of time together, to make sure you're getting what you need but we're also getting inputs from the other team members?"

Yes, some people are more difficult, or even more prickly, than others. Tackling touchy issue like this is not necessarily fun. But it's the project manager's job to take on these kinds of conflicts and work with every single individual as needed to make the team interactions work.

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