Jeff couldn't believe what he wasn't hearing. "One more time," he said, "does anyone know how Michelle's doing on the variance report?" She'd circulated a draft yesterday, but Jeff hadn't looked at it yet. The silence puzzled him — surely someone had read the report by now.
Aha, he thought. Maybe Michelle was reporting bad news, and nobody wanted to speak up, because Nan, Jeff's boss, was sitting in on the meeting. "OK, let's move on. Maybe Michelle will show up later," he said, knowing that she probably wouldn't.
Most meetings have an owner who chairs the meeting, devises the agenda, invites attendees and so on. When the owner's boss "sits in," everything changes, especially if visits are rare. The meeting can become awkward, tense, and ineffective. Permanent harm can result.
Rarely is visiting a
a good idea.
The risk of
disruption is high.Rarely is visiting a subordinate's meeting a good idea. The risk of disruption is high, due to a form of the Hawthorne effect. And if attendees misinterpret the meaning of the visit, it can even disrupt relationships among them.
Here are just some of the risks when power attends the meeting:
- The chair freezes
- In fear of being overruled or corrected, the chair can become tentative, avoiding issues that would normally be pursued or resolved. This is what happened to Jeff.
- Everyone else freezes
- If the visitor rarely attends, attendees might assume the worst — that the chair is in some kind of trouble. Unsure about their own status, they restrict their comments to safe topics. Truth goes underground.
- The visitor hijacks the meeting
- Almost anything the visitor says can give everyone pause, but some visitors actually try to manipulate decisions, or worse, they seize control of the meeting.
- The visitor takes notes
- Since no one in the room can make out what the visitor is writing down, people tend to imagine the worst.
- The visitor leaves the meeting early
- In the absence of real evidence, when the visitor leaves early, many wonder whether someone said something that caused anger or disgust.
- Ambition takes over
- Some ambitious attendees might try to impress the visitor, possibly at the expense of the chair or of other attendees.
- Trouble for all to see
- Attendees imagine, or believe they see, evidence of tension between the visitor and the chair, which afterwards complicates their own relationships with the chair.
Unless your purpose is to shower the chair with honor, find a different approach to accomplish your goal. If it's information you seek, ask for a briefing. If the meeting owner's performance is at issue, have a consultant observe the meeting and work with the meeting owner on any issues that surface.
If you doubt these risks, do this imaginary experiment. Imagine your boss sitting in on one of your meetings — a juicy one, perhaps, where you're investigating a troubled project. How do you think it would go? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Breaking the Rules
- Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who
break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
- Animosity Patterns
- Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes
people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's
a short catalog of some of its uses.
- How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
- When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who
nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
- On Noticing
- What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there —
can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed
our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine
which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's
ability to collaborate.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.