Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 20;   May 16, 2012: Handling Heat: I

Handling Heat: I

by

Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?
Amundsen's team working on personal kit during the winter before the trip South to the Pole

Amundsen's team working on personal kit during the winter before the trip South to the Pole. View a larger image. In order, from left to right, are Olav Bjaaland, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, Helmer Hanssen, Amundsen, Hjalmar Johansen, Kristian Prestrud, and Jørgen Stubberud. The circled gentleman is Hjalmar Johansen. Amundsen's first assault on the Pole in early spring was premature. Cold weather set in, and the party was forced to retreat. The retreat was disorderly, and nearly a disaster. Upon the return to base, Johansen publicly and heatedly attacked Amundsen, criticizing his leadership and decision-making.

Amundsen, as leader of the expedition, was thus in two of the roles we identify here: he was the Target of abuse, and he was in the position analogous to what we are here calling Lead. Since Amundsen had no superior, Johansen had no alternative but to confront Amundsen directly, but he erred in making the confrontation both public and emotional. Amundsen subsequently "fired" Johansen from the expedition, in the sense that he assigned Johansen no further exploratory role. But Amundsen also modified his own approach to decision-making, at least with respect to choosing the start date for the assault on the Pole. In that sense, he acted as his own supervisor, putting himself on what we today would call a "performance improvement plan." Photo owned by the Norwegian National Library. It can be obtained from of the "Nansen-Amundsen-Year 2011" Web site, hosted by the Norwegian Polar Institute, developed by Paul-Inge Flakstad and edited by Janne Schreuder. This particular copy of the photo is from Amundsen's book about the expedition, The South Pole.

In some meetings, we interrupt each other, we insult each other, we condescend to each other, and we can be bitingly sarcastic. Formally, it's the responsibility of the meeting lead or facilitator to deal with these behaviors. When they fail in these responsibilities, the abusive behavior likely continues or escalates.

In Amundsen's team working on personal kit during the winter before the trip South to the Polethese situations, there are at least four roles. The Aggressor initiates the abusive behavior. The Target is the object of the Aggressor. The Lead has formal responsibility for maintaining decorum. Bystanders are present, but in any given incident, they aren't Targets. Often, multiple people occupy these roles, and sometimes an individual might play more than one role. But for simplicity let's assume that each person plays only one role. And I'll assume, dear reader, that you've been either a Target or a Bystander.

To end the abuse, Targets and uncomfortable Bystanders turn first to the Lead. Often, they learn that the issue is already being addressed. But what are their options if the Lead doesn't feel responsible for dealing with these issues? Or what if the Lead is unable to deal with the problem, because of incompetence or fear or whatever — what then?

If abuse is part of the culture, dealing with each Aggressor individually is of little use, because there are so many other Aggressors. On the other hand, if the Aggressor's behavior is unusual in the organizational culture, progress is possible. I'll address the cultural problem in a future issue. For now, let's examine the case in which abuse isn't part of the cultural pattern.

Let's suppose further that the Aggressors don't see their behavior as abusive, or if they do, they either don't care, or they haven't responded to private intervention. Now what?

The guiding principle is Do No Harm. In this Part I, let's first address what you cannot do.

In this scenario, the Aggressor's behavior is problematic, and the Lead is failing to address the problem of the Aggressor's behavior. Both failures are performance issues.

Only The guiding principle
is Do No Harm
supervisors can address performance issues effectively. Unless you're the Lead's supervisor or the Aggressor's supervisor, it isn't your responsibility to correct their performance issues. You can talk to the supervisor of the Lead, to the supervisor of the Aggressor, to your own supervisor, or to a Human Resources representative, but that's about it. It's up to them to address the performance issues.

This picture might seem bleak. I'm offering no magic solutions to these performance issues. But it's important to recognize that dealing with performance issues is the responsibility of supervisors, not colleagues. If you try to insert yourself into the supervisor-subordinate relationship, you will most likely complicate the problem.

Next time, we'll examine tactics you can use for the meeting itself. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Handling Heat: II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenhzmKxsePpSyuQrssner@ChacMrdyVzOXClOLYVxqoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

President Richard Nixon resignsObstructionist Tactics: I
Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics do obstructors use?
Lake Chaubunagungamaug signCreating Trust
What can you do when you discover that the environment at work is permeated with distrust? Your position in the organization does affect your choices, but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to anyone.
Wilson's Bird-of-paradiseNew Ideas: Judging
When groups work together to solve problems, they eventually evaluate the ideas they generate. They sometimes reject perfectly good ideas, while accepting some really boneheaded ones. How can we judge new ideas more effectively?
An iphone 7Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.
Two hermit crabs in their snail shellsThe Perils of Limited Agreement
When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEfhtlpoltWLCGqJyner@ChaccuQBLDuwjXovDVfAoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.