Aunty B: What’s the right way to interrupt a colleague who just won’t shut up?

Dear Aunty B,

I read your column last week in which you offered some advice to a business owner who was having trouble running effective meetings. I’m also having difficulty keeping meetings in my business on track and I’m hoping you can help me.

My issue is I don’t know how to interrupt my staff when they start going off topic in the meetings. We have an agenda and for the most part, my team is good at sticking to the tasks at hand. But there are a number of individuals who like to use these meetings to talk, at length, about issues that are either not on the agenda or have been dealt with in the past.

What’s the best way to interrupt them during the meeting and get things back on track?


New South Wales


Dear Diane,

Let me talk to you about jellyfish.

Now I know this might sound a little kooky – but stick with me.

I’m guessing you’ve already tried the polite approach of “that sounds interesting, but let’s get back on topic” so what you need instead is a circuit-breaker that gets people attention and puts a stop to those long-winded rants.

And that’s where the jellyfish come in. When the conversation is getting out of hand or too far away from the topic of discussion, say “jellyfish”.

The idea comes from Bob Frisch and Cary Greene from a consultancy business called Strategic Offsites Group, who explained it in this article in the Harvard Business Review.

Frisch and Greence recommend saying “jellyfish” or “I think we’re having a jellyfish moment” when you need to cut someone off in a meeting for three reasons.

The word “jellyfish” is simple and safe, its accessible and it raises awareness. The concept is explained at the start of the meeting and anyone in the meeting can invoke the word. People are also more conscious of what they are talking about and for how long if they know the “jellyfish” rule might be used.

“In decades of helping clients conduct better meetings, we’ve found ‘jellyfish’ to be one of the most effective ways of keeping the discussion on target,” say Frisch and Greene.

Why not try “jellyfish” out at your next meeting?

Be smart,

Aunty B


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Christine Sutherland
Christine Sutherland
5 years ago

It’s also about being extremely clear from the outset what the agenda is, what can be considered inside and outside the agenda, and what the rules of engagement are.

People need to know that if they go off track they will be quickly brought back inside the ambit of the meeting, and that the meeting is not an opportunity to waffle on about other topics.

If the current chair doesn’t have the skill to control the meeting, it may be time to put someone else in that role.

5 years ago

The words that work best are “If you don’t shut the f**k up, you’re out of here with a cheque in your sweaty hand.”