Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 26;   June 27, 2012: When the Chair Is a Bully: II

When the Chair Is a Bully: II

by

Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)

Congessman Darryl Issa, Republican of California, speaking in Congress in 2011. As Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Issa was chair of a hearing on the recently enacted health care reform law. As Chair, he had control of the witness list. One of the witnesses he chose to exclude was Sandra Fluke, who was nominated as a witness by the minority party. Ms. Fluke would have testified to the need for the law's provisions with respect to the prescription of medically necessary contraceptives, a position with which Rep. Issa disagreed.

In barring Ms. Fluke's testimony, Rep. Issa's actions provide us with an example of a bully chair ejecting those regarded as challengers. Photo courtesy U.S. Government General Accountability Office.

We conduct meetings to facilitate collaboration. We collaborate because we believe that groups have more and better answers and insights than individuals do. But some meeting chairs take a different approach. Instead of eliciting contributions from everyone, these bully chairs impose their own views on the group, limiting the contributions of the attendees.

To impose their will successfully, they cloak their intentions in the appearance of collaboration. They find ways to make the imposition of their will seem necessary and proper. Here's Part II of a collection of tactics used by bully chairs. See "When the Chair Is a Bully: I," Point Lookout for June 20, 2012, and "When the Chair Is a Bully: III," Point Lookout for July 4, 2012, for more.

Ejecting those regarded as challengers
Since bully chairs often have influence over the attendee list, they can sometimes choose not to invite those they regard as troublemakers. If the definition of making trouble is disagreeing with the chair, or criticizing positions that the chair favors, group decision quality suffers.
When an attendee stops attending, and you suspect that the absence is a result of the chair's actions, the meeting is deprived of the contributions of someone who was initially regarded as a valuable contributor. Log these incidents. They contribute to the picture of the bullying pattern, and they demonstrate how the bullying is degrading the meeting's performance.
Limiting the participation of those who cannot be ejected
Social, political, or organizational structures protect some attendees from ejection by the chair. Nevertheless, the chair might be able to limit attendee participation in ways that seem innocent or constructive. For instance, the chair might delegate to a carefully selected "task force" the responsibility for making a recommendation to the meeting as a whole. That recommendation might then be subjected to limited discussion, which constrains disfavored attendees as they try to modulate the recommendation.
By themselves, these tactics don't support charges of bullying. But in the context of an array of tactics targeted at disfavored individuals, they can be convincing evidence of the chair's abuse of power.
Abusing technology to limit participation
A more modern tactic for limiting participation Instead of eliciting contributions
from everyone, bully chairs impose
their own views on the group
of disfavored attendees entails moving meeting discussions to electronic media that the disfavored attendees cannot access conveniently or cannot access with regularity, or which they do not have time to learn how to use effectively. This tactic has the appearance of fairness, but still manages to limit the effectiveness of the disfavored.
These decisions can help demonstrate the chair's bias if the chair has strongly advocated for using the technologies over the strenuous objections of the disfavored. The chair's actions become more clearly questionable if incorrect decisions result from inadequate airing of issues due to technology-based restriction of the participation of disfavored attendees.

We conclude this examination of the tactics of bully chairs next time, with a discussion of tactics that exploit the form of the meeting. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: When the Chair Is a Bully: III  Next Issue

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Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)Confronting the Workplace Bully: II
When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
A U.S. Marine sniper wearing sniper camouflage gear known as a "ghillie" suitHow Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: II
To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely to work.
Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor and InspectorWhen the Chair Is a Bully: III
When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Palm trees blowing in a hurricaneDealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingSeventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember in the moment.

See also Workplace Bullying and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

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