Office meetings provide a great opportunity to study human behavior. I am always amazed at how the personas of people I work with and enjoy can suddenly change based on the group dynamic.

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One behavior I’ve come to recognize is the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde effect that happens when a generally mild-mannered person tries to dominate a meeting or conversation. Nine times out of ten, it’s a signal that the person is feeling insecure about something. It may be that they haven’t worked out the bugs in the idea they’re presenting or the position they want to defend. Or the lack of confidence may be because they feel threatened by, or jealous of, someone in the room. Maybe they just feel ill-prepared because they didn’t do their homework and are trying to bluff their way through. As a result, they try to dominate the conversation, make it hard for anyone else to suggest an idea, and act like an annoying boor. Or worse.

This recently happened at a backyard barbecue with neighbors. A family friend, invited to mix with other neighbors for the first time, suddenly started acting like the casual banter was a championship tennis match that she had to win. Her voice became loud. Her opinions were stated with absolute authority. No one else was allowed to interject a thought.

The next day, my wife was still furious that our friend could become so aggressive without provocation. But I recognized the behavior pattern from years of observing people who try to dominate business meetings. So I shared with my wife the rule I’ve adopted for myself. You can be angry about it, or you can have empathy for whatever is driving the insecurity. You can “bench” people for being annoying, or you can “coach” them to play well with others. You may not be able to give them a hug in a meeting room – but you can prop them up with a kind word, show that you’re interested in the idea, and take the emotional volume down a notch.

Eventually, most people take the hint that Dr. Jekyll has more influence than Mr. Hyde and stop bringing him to meetings.  But if you ever get trapped in a meeting or backyard BBQ by a bombastic boor, at least you’ll recognize the symptoms, and can look for a remedy.