Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 49;   December 7, 2016: Preventing Meeting Hijacking

Preventing Meeting Hijacking

by

Meeting leads, meeting Chairs, and facilitators must be prepared to deal with meeting hijackers. Hesitation, or any ineffectual action, enhances the hijacker's chances of success. Here are suggestions for preventing hijacking.
A computer mouse, the tool we use so often to hijack our own minds

A computer mouse, the tool we use so often to hijack our own minds. How often have you turned to the World Wide Web to do some serious research, only to emerge 20 minutes later, without having found what you sought, and having been distracted by stories like, "How Many of These Things Did You Google Immediately After Watching 'The Social Network'?"? Such pieces are so common that they have earned a new word to describe their category: clickbait. Masters of the art of devising clickbait headlines are valuable employees for Web sites that survive on advertising revenue, and which need stories to partially fill the pages that carry those ads. Clickbait has become so common and so outrageous that it is now a target of satirical sites like ClickHole.com.

Meeting hijackers can exploit the same skills used by clickbait headline designers. They can word their proposed agenda items so as to induce curiosity, fear, or even panic. By stirring these emotions, they can make rejecting their proposed agenda items difficult.

Before investigating techniques for preventing meeting hijacking, let's distinguish hijacking from another serious but unrelated issue that's often confused with hijacking. That behavior pattern is known as "meeting bullying." Bullying is any behavior undertaken with the primary purpose of inflicting physical or psychological harm on another. Although bullying can happen in meetings, most bullies prefer other settings, unless they're chairing the meeting, or unless they've already gained the acquiescence of the Chair somehow, possibly by bullying or intimidation. Unless one of these conditions is met, the meeting Chair is free to challenge the bully, which most bullies would experience as public humiliation. For this reason, much of what is commonly called meeting bullying is actually something else — outrageously bad behavior, or uncontrolled anger, to cite two examples.

Bullying, wherever it occurs, should be addressed by the bully's supervisor or by Human Resources officials. Meeting Chairs typically can't do much about it. If bullying does occur in a meeting, the only safe course for the meeting Chair is to immediately adjourn the meeting and consult with officials empowered to deal with such problems. Address the problem officially and privately.

Let's now explore how to prevent meeting hijackings. These approaches are founded on two principles. First, identify potential meeting hijackers in advance, and second, deprive them of opportunities for success. This prevention-based approach is yet another example of the idea that it's a lot easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble.

Continuing our customary practice, we'll refer to our meeting hijackers as Horace or Harriet.

Identify potential meeting hijackers
Attributes of potential hijackers include a track record of past hijackings; energetic pre-meeting lobbying for an item to be included in the agenda; a sudden break in a pattern of skipping meetings; being a close friend of a known hijacker; a pattern of arriving late and asking for a "quick summary;" and so on.
If Horace exhibits one or more of these indicators, consider having a conversation with him in advance of the meeting. If he is intent on disruption, try to find an accommodation that doesn't involve deviating from the agenda you've set. If you can't gain an agreement not to disrupt the meeting, or if the agreement you do secure is violated, then Horace is exhibiting a performance issue. Only his supervisor can deal with that.
Limit the hijacker's access to tools
The First, identify potential meeting
hijackers in advance, and
second, deprive them of
opportunities for success
overall goal of this limited-access strategy is to close the hijacker's access to the normal means of adjusting the agenda. For example, in advance of the meeting, the Chair can solicit agenda items from attendees during a limited period.
After rejecting with justification Harriet's proposed agenda item, the Chair can close the agenda item solicitation and advise everyone that at the meeting the agenda will be open for addition of any items not previously deemed unsuitable for this meeting.

Techniques like these are eminently fair. They don't directly target any potential hijackers. Next time, we'll examine tactics for use in the meeting itself. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Dealing with Meeting Hijackings  Next Issue

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More articles on Effective Meetings:

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Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse. Here are some of those tactics.

See also Effective Meetings and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

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