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Requirements Elicitation: How to Handle Difficult Behaviors in a Brainstorming Session (Part 1)

Brainstorming sessions can be a melting pot of diverse personalities, and you as the business analyst are inescapably trapped into that baffling interplay of group dynamics, dealing with people whose attitudes may be remotely Pollyanna-like. While brainstorming is one powerful elicitation technique, it’s easy to throw that idea out of the window when you see yourself in the presence of a swirling miasma of difficult behaviors in the boardroom. So what you gotta do?

Let’s get one thing straight, though: It’s extremely challenging to manage difficult people. They’re “difficult” for a reason, right? They’re usually disruptive, cynical, and exude a negative vibe. But it all rests on your people and coping skills. While you cannot change their behavior nor it is proper to fight tooth and nail against them, you can use several strategies which put you in a better and more comfortable position to rein everyone in and ultimately, carry on the business and elicit the needed requirements from that session.

Like they say, different strokes for different folks! Here are ways you can flesh out the best results from a brainstorming session awash with people exhibiting difficult behaviors:

  1. THE SKEPTIC

Call it the Devil’s advocate, or the 10th man, a contrarian is something we all love to meet. At least in the realm of theory. In real life, it takes volumes of psychological fortitude to be able to understand and restrain someone who keeps on shooting down people’s ideas. The skeptic is oftentimes very smart and can be quite persuasive. He makes valid arguments for and against an idea. When someone brings a potentially brilliant idea to the table, he immediately questions its viability- or lack thereof- because of existing business rules, regulating agency restrictions, cost, resource limitations, etc. Half the time, we are besotted by his gripping logic whenever he makes a case for himself.

Strategy: Usually, a Skeptic is a realist. He may be too swift in dispensing criticisms but we have to recognize that he comes from a position of practicality. In many cases, a skeptic doesn’t want to be invited to a brainstorming session, perhaps because of the technique’s wasteful nature – too many people in a room, throwing ideas most of which will be later discarded.

The key is to assure the skeptic that every idea will be carefully weighed down and each idea’s validity will be subject to close scrutiny and evaluation. Emphasize that brainstorming is supposedly a fun session which fosters open discussion and creative thinking among its participants.

  1. THE ECHO

The Echo is someone who repeats the same points over again. He insists on being heard or listened to, but bores everyone with the same thought. To him, there’s only one solution to the problem, and unless his idea gets finally consigned into paper, he will repeat the same idea as long as there is opportunity.

Strategy: For all we know, maybe the Echo isn’t just aware that somebody is listening to his ideas. Reassure him that his ideas are recorded and just like others’ ideas, his will also be subject to a predetermined set of criteria. It helps to repeat his idea/s back to him, and ask if he has to add anything more to it. It will compel him to depart from his original idea and think of other things to contribute to the discussion.

  1. THE CHATTERBOX

The Chatterbox is someone who talks non-stop, to the point when everyone thinks he is already monopolizing the discussion. He is a fountain of both useful and useless information. Sure, a brainstorming session is a welcoming platform to ideas of all nature – good, bad, or irrelevant. But the chatterbox makes it appear as if it’s a one-man show. What do you do?

Strategy: Summarize his points, and then call another person to share ideas, whether the person is ready for it or not. The longer the air pocket, the stronger the hint for the Chatterbox to fill it in by endlessly talking. If you feel that the Chatterbox has shared enough, avoid eye contact with him and select others in the group to offer their own thoughts.

  1. THE DEMIGOD

The Demigod radiates an aura of superiority, turning his nose up while listening to others’ simplistic or silly ideas. Much like the skeptic, he doesn’t see the value in sitting on long meetings. He doesn’t participate much, especially if the topic in hand is too easy or frivolous for him. He makes an effort to make others see he is an important person and doesn’t want his time wasted.

Strategy: Appeal to the Demigod’s vanity! Thank them for their time in participating in the brainstorming and magnify the role they perform in the requirements elicitation process. Amid the rally of ideas, ask them the toughest questions. Submit them to a challenge where they will either be flattered because their expertise or authority is solicited OR be humbled by the experience of accepting or managing a highly complex problem or task.

Read on for the How to Handle Difficult Behaviors in a Brainstorming Session PART 2.

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