Cope with a Muttering Meeting Member

When you have a smart aleck in a meeting who insists on making veiled comments under their breath instead of getting to the point in an open, reasoned and sharing manner, there can be a sense that the meeting is being undermined or not taken seriously by this particular member and this can infect other participants who get distracted by the behavior. This "muttering" behavior can spoil meetings and cause ripples of tension when side (or even snide) comments are overheard by everyone but few dare to react to the comments and put a stop to them. If you have a distracting "muttering meeting member" in your meeting, here are some suggestions for dealing with them.


Chairperson or meeting leader

  1. Talk to the participant who is muttering after the meeting. Talk to this person in a quiet place rather than making them feel exposed. It is best to ride out the meeting in which the muttering is taking place rather than exposing this person because they will probably react defensively and either storm out or start an argument that creates bad relations within the meeting and fouls up the proceedings. Instead, follow up the muttering behavior with a chat, or even a warning, after the occasion, to try to lessen the embarrassment or exposure factor. Take the muttering participant to one side after a meeting and inform this person:
    • How the muttering comes across to everyone present
    • Let them know that it gives the impression of undermining the meeting and colleagues
    • If it is the case that the mutterings can be clearly heard, then let the mutterer know this and inform them that if they intend for the comments to be heard, that they should speak clearly and directly to the points as this will carry greater weight and will earn them respect.
  2. Emphasize the word "respect" when dealing with this person. Nobody likes to feel that they are earning disrespect for their actions and if you can make this clear, it will help deter the participant from future unhelpful comments.
  3. Put the muttering participant on the spot if they don't respect your initial discussion or they disrupt the meeting excessively. If the muttering and snide commentary is really disruptive during the meeting, it may be necessary to deal with the mutterer in the course of the meeting itself:
    • Wait for a natural pause (round-up time of a particular topic is good) and very nicely but firmly inform the muttering participant that you have noticed their wish to provide input to the meeting but that you didn't quite catch what it was they said.
    • Ask this person to kindly repeat the comments more loudly so that you can clarify their contribution. This is a direct and confrontational method for the person who is muttering - you will need to judge the person and the context to see if this is a good and fair approach. It will put an end to the muttering most likely; most people in this position would feel too embarrassed to repeat the action for the remainder of the meeting. And likely they will cease whenever you are chairing it too.
  4. Stop the meeting. This is a really confrontational measure that is usually applied in the classroom. But it can be effective if you have already spoken with the muttering participant or warned this person before and they did not cease muttering. Simply pause the meeting. As the chairperson or meeting leader, halt someone speaking for a moment with a hand movement or stop talking yourself. Be silent for 5 - 10 seconds and then turn to the muttering participant and ask them to kindly stop the running commentary as it is disrupting the meeting. As already stated, this is a confrontational approach meant to embarrass and should only be held in reserve for the worst offenders who will not be persuaded by other means.

Fellow attendee of meeting

  1. Ask the chairperson or meeting leader to speak with the disruptive person. If you are not the chairperson or meeting leader, but simply another participant at the meeting, ask the meeting leader for a quick chat after the meeting. Tell them how disruptive you found the person who was muttering all the time and how it impacted your hearing, your ability to concentrate and your understanding of what was going on. These are good, neutral and outcome-impacting reasons that the chairperson or meeting leader can use to present a case to the muttering participant as reasons to stop muttering and making snide remarks.
  2. Feel free to talk to the muttering participant colleague-to-colleague. This can often be the most effective as a form of peer pressure when the person making inane side remarks realizes that their antics are not appreciated and are not winning them any points with the colleagues. Again, keep to the facts as in the step above.
  3. Do not reply, but try ignoring the mutterer or give a glance showing annoyance. Sometimes a muttering participant is trying to get others to accept that they know more than the speaker. This kind is looking for personal validation, and failing to get that, they may stop. If they do not, and you have their attention or are seated close, try a short glance of annoyance. If the person is close and persists, a low comment "Sh, I want to hear this." could work.


  • Be careful not to confuse a person who makes snide asides with someone who simply mumbles when they address the meeting. Someone who mumbles has a different problem but is usually not attempting to be disruptive or snidely clever.

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