You know they are out there. They are like snipers sitting around the table. Ready to open fire with no warning. The moment they think that any rule might possibly have been broken. The price of their vigilance is intimidation. A nitpicker in the group can effectively shut down debate, as people prefer to say nothing than risk making a “mistake”.
Prioritizes process over substance
Monitoring the process of the meeting is the role of the group facilitator or chairperson. That leaves the other members in the group to focus on the content or topics being debated. But nitpickers can act like a second meeting leader and are often self-appointed. And while the extra pair of eyes and ears enforcing the rules can be helpful – nitpickers can bog down the meeting with debates on the rules instead of the issues. The nitpicker prioritizes process over substance.
Nitpickers lack a sense of subtilty and tend to see things in back and white. A wise leader understands that rules are not there for their own sake. They are there to ensure efficiency and fairness in the debate. To help guide the group to a decision. Sometime rules may need to be adapted for the greater good, e.g. speedy meetings or equal access for participants.
Hidden agendas and fears
Nitpickers may try to use the rules to shut down other opinions as a way to push through their agenda. A good group leader will enforce their authority as a neutral party to ensure fairness and trust in the system and defuse any emotion from the debate.
Nitpickers also use the rules as a screen to hide their own insecurities. Participants who are afraid to be on the “wrong” side of a debate will focus on the rules rather than make an actual decision. So, it can be a wise decision to strategically and purposefully call on them to express their opinion during the discussion – or after they pick a nit a bit too far.
This will bring their head out of the rulebook and get them more engaged in the substance of the debate. This can be a difficult position for them, particularly if they are on the “losing” side of a debate. Sometimes it is easier to engage them toward the end of the debate, when they have a better sense of the “winning” side. Calling on them a little earlier the next time will help to teach them to take greater risks at expressing themselves.
Do you have any nitpickers in your group? How do you handle them? Comment below!