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.
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More articles on Devious Political Tactics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: I
- Risk management usually entails coping with losses if they do occur. Here's Part I of a concise summary
of the options for managing risk.
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you
do? How can you regain control?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.