Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 21;   May 23, 2012: Handling Heat: Part II

Handling Heat: Part II

by

Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill imagined in true color on May 17, 2010, by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's TERRA satellite

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill imagined in true color on May 17, 2010, by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's TERRA satellite. The scope of this accident continues to this day. In April, 2011, BP held its first annual general meeting of shareholders following the incident. People from the Gulf coast states purchased shares of the company as a means of gaining entry to the meeting to register protests — some more demonstrative than others. The company responded by denying entry to those whom they regarded as presenting a risk of meeting disruption.

This technique corresponds to what I am here describing as a refusal to engage. The situation is complex, because the conflict began with the actions of BP (and possibly others) at the well site, and from that perspective BP might be regarded as Aggressor. But the technique of refusing to engage can be effective for both the Aggressor and the Target, at any stage of the exchange. Moreover, Aggressors and Targets in long-running conflicts can exchange roles on a stage-by-stage basis. Thus the techniques described here might be employed by either party, depending on the stage of the exchange. Photo by Rob Gutro, courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Last time, we began to explore what we can do when heated exchanges occur in meetings, if the meeting lead either can't or won't address the problem. We saw that as meeting participants, there are some choices to avoid, because they probably won't work. The question remains: what can we do?

Here are some tactics that can be helpful in specific circumstances. In what follows, the term aggressor denotes the initiator of the attack, and target denotes the object of the attack.

Notice your own anger early
Noticing your own anger can give you the warning needed to avoid explosions. When you do get angry, notice your own physical responses. Write down a description, or describe your feelings to yourself aloud. Articulating the experience of anger can help you remember what anger feels like.
Later, when you recognize your own anger, take a breath or two. Give your brain the time and oxygen it needs to find a different path.
Refuse to engage
Because Aggressors usually select the timing and content of the attack, Targets are often taken by surprise, which gives Aggressors significant advantages. Targets who can consistently respond effectively when taken by surprise do indeed have a rare talent.
Even if the Target does possess such talent, engaging the Aggressor almost certainly takes the Target off point. There's little to gain by engagement. Instead, if you're targeted when speaking, stick to your plan. You've been interrupted, and you might even have been asked a question. Don't respond.
Seek allies
Ganging up on the Aggressor can be very effective. Preferably, the entire alliance petitions the meeting lead for redress, but we're assuming that that approach has failed. A less preferred alternative is direct action in the meeting itself. When an offense occurs, the alliance members can object in unison directly to the Aggressor, without waiting for recognition by the chair.
The risks of confrontation tactics can be mitigated in two ways. First, rehearsals can make people more comfortable with the action, and help build unity of purpose. A second approach is increasing alliance size. There truly is safety in numbers.
Know the range of retaliatory tactics
Retaliatory Because Aggressors usually select
the timing and content of the
attack, Targets are often taken by
surprise, which gives Aggressors
significant advantages
tactics might be effective when the interrupter is a well-meaning individual who got a little carried away. Examples of retaliatory tactics:
  • Wait for the interrupter to finish or pause, then ignore what has been said and continue, "As I was saying…"
  • Overtalk the interrupter by repeatedly saying, "Stop talking please, I had the floor…"
  • Offer any number of sarcastic comments such as, "Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting."
Caution: retaliatory tactics don't work on confirmed abusers. Use retaliation with care, and in combination with support from allies.

Remember that these measures are only a poor second choice. Addressing the problem of heated meetings is really the responsibility of the meeting lead. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions  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? rbrentmVBCSGVvsSpmwMmner@ChacDeydAetHPyaHHykBoCanyon.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:

A pair of kayakersTotally at Home
Getting home from work is far more than a question of transportation. What can we do to come home totally — to move not only our bodies, but our minds and our spirits from work to home?
Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: Part II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
The Bill of RightsImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part II
When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic tactics.
The Headquarters of the Public Employees Retirement Association of New MexicoSo You Want the Bullying to End: Part I
If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more important than whether or when it ends.
Sen. Robert Packwood, Republican of OregonPatterns of Conflict Escalation: Part I
Toxic workplace conflicts often begin as simple disagreements. Many then evolve into intensely toxic conflict following recognizable patterns.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkVOicgsUNHqGFkMbner@ChacMyNtnpLMisvpFRZboCanyon.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

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for 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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
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.