Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 48;   December 2, 2015: Suppressing Dissent: Part II

Suppressing Dissent: Part II

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Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945

Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945. The Potsdam Conference had been scheduled to occur after Germany's surrender. Its purpose was to define the roles and responsibilities of the victorious allied powers with respect to administering Germany and other European nations, and to reach agreements with regard to Japan. It achieved some of its purposes, but much remained unresolved. Causes varied with the issues, but it is possible that Stalin, by this time accustomed to dealing with domestic dissent by suppressing it, was unwilling or unable to negotiate mutually agreeable terms with his allies.

Those who become accustomed to suppressing dissent sometimes experience expressions of disagreement as challenges to their personhood, even when they are merely disagreements.

Photo taken by U.S. Army obtained from the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

In some groups or teams, dissent can be personally risky wherever it occurs — hallway conversation, email, meetings, over lunch, wherever. Last time we described general-purpose techniques some group Leaders use to suppress dissent. In meetings, though, leaders have a wide array of tools for effectively suppressing dissent.

I'm not advocating techniques for suppressing dissent, which is almost always unwise, and probably unethical. Rather, I offer this inventory as a guide to help people recognize patterns of abuse.

Controlling the time and place of meetings
Leaders acting in good faith try to schedule meetings to enable most people to attend. If schedule or location (real or virtual) must change, they announce changes to everyone as soon as possible. Leaders who are determined to create attendance obstacles for specific people, such as Dissenters, can choose times and places accordingly. And they can distribute change announcements accordingly, too.
Controlling invitation and distribution lists
By omitting Dissenters from meeting invitation lists or email distribution lists, Leaders can reduce the probability that Dissenters will receive important information, or be able to attend meetings, whether or not the information or meeting agenda is relevant to the substance of the dissent. These schemes can thus create what appear to be performance issues for Dissenters, which can affect their stature and credibility.
Abusing agenda responsibility
Leaders, who are typically responsible for meeting agendas, can adjust agendas to the disadvantage of Dissenters. Scheduling items so as to make Dissenters' own schedules more difficult, or allocating too little time to Dissenters' items, can create obstacles for Dissenters.
Abusing the parking lot
The Those who become accustomed to
suppressing dissent sometimes
experience expressions of
disagreement as challenges
to their personhood
"parking lot" is a list of topics that arise during a meeting, but which aren't closely enough related to the agenda to warrant immediate attention. The Leader can arrange to "park" any points Dissenters raise, whether or not they're eligible for parking according to the usual criteria. And after the meeting, instead of dealing with the Dissenter's parked items, the Leader can arrange for them to be quietly ignored. For more about the parking lot, see "Using the Parking Lot," Point Lookout for September 12, 2007.
Abusing the facilitator's prerogatives
Many Leaders also facilitate their own meetings. As facilitators, they can influence the flow of their meetings by recognizing attendees who wish to comment or contribute to the discussion. They can decide what comments are germane, and they can interrupt contributors. When a contributor is speaking, and another attendee interrupts, Leaders can be selective about halting such interruptions. Although people generally frown upon arbitrariness in exercising the facilitator's prerogatives, in most organizations, attendees can't do much more. Objecting to a Leader's meeting management practices can be risky.

Although Leaders probably are best able to suppress dissent, just about anyone can take steps to do so. Watch for examples around you. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Clearing Conflict Fog  Next Issue

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Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.Suppressing Dissent: Part I
In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

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