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Requirements Elicitation: How to Handle Difficult Behaviors in a Brainstorming Session (Part 2)

In the previous article, we discussed the power and capability of brainstorming sessions, and how it can be tabled by the most difficult behaviors in a brainstorming session. Here we expand the list and offer ways to manage the people who (unfortunately!) exhibit them:

  1. THE WHISPERERS

In brainstorming sessions, a whisperer is nothing without another whisperer. Their disruptive power grows exponentially when they flock with fellow chronic whisperers. They are the people who, amid the crossfire of ideas, create their own little side conversations between them.

Whether it’s a display of boredom or a reaction from being alienated from the discussion, whisperers can be a real distraction to the proceedings. While everyone is hooked into the “ideation” process, the whisperers discuss something else. Or they’re commenting on someone’s ideas, but they don’t want the group to hear it.

Strategy: From what we mentioned above, you can glean two types of Whisperers: the bored ones and those who are shy to publicly articulate their ideas. Tailor-fit your strategy to each of them. In the first case, decisively but tactfully call them out on their behavior. Most of the time, these people are sincerely bored or distracted; they mean no harm. Call them out but don’t tarry on the issue; do not engage in a meandering sermon about meeting etiquette. Get on with your business.

For the second type, kindly ask the whisperers in flagrante delicto to share their comments and ask if they have anything to add to the topic on hand. Emphasize that every idea is appreciated and deserves to be heard by the group. More or less, this bunch needs a little push or encouragement so be sure you, as the business analyst, come across as someone who sincerely wants everyone to partake in the discussion.

  1. THE TICKING TIME BOMB

Probably the scariest of the lot, the Ticking Time Bomb is a real challenge to handle. The Ticking Time Bomb is a situational role, and usually not an enduring disposition. Anyone can be a Ticking Time Bomb, if you ever find yourself in the position of the oppressed, the underdog, or the one who likely stands to lose from the reason why there needs a brainstorming session. Or all of the above at the same time.

The Ticking Time Bomb has so much pent-up feelings, accumulated within days, weeks, or months of being frustrated over a long-standing problem, an unresolved critical-to-quality issue, or a missing feature. He’s angry and emotional. He’s like a roiling active volcano, ready to blow and erupt, and you don’t want to be around him when that happens.

Strategy: The difficulty of managing the Ticking Time Bomb is comparable to that of walking on eggshells. You have to be extra careful in addressing the issues the TTB raises, and the same time, keep him in control. It’s like pacifying an irate customer. On the other hand, you, as the business analyst should keep your good head on your shoulders. The first thing to do is to stop letting the emotions run high. Ask him about what he feels and then translate those feelings into specific action plans that are within the power of your group to deliver. Commit to those actionable items.

  1. THE FURNITURE

The success of any brainstorming session is dependent on the participants’ willingness to be open and forthcoming with their ideas. Other times, you encounter a participant who contributes nothing to the discussion. Unbelievably quiet, they seem to blend well with the office fixtures.

Strategy: The last thing to do when you call out a Furniture’s behavior is to further alienate them from the process. The reason for his reticence is quite unknown to you, so be tactful in the way you handle the situation. Play the role of a supportive leader and send them the message that their ideas are highly appreciated. In some sessions, to combat the fear of public speaking, participants are asked to write down their ideas and suggestions. Once all inputs are in, the group can discuss the ideas while keeping their authors anonymous. This efficient method lets people overcome the initial fear of introducing or rallying for one’s idea.

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