A common cause of meeting troubles is the hidden agenda — participants' private goals, toward which they steer the meeting at what seems to others to be every opportunity. Although both hidden and blind agendas waste time and although both can lead to toxic conflict, they're fundamentally different. The hidden agenda is known to its proponents, but unknown to others. The blind agenda is unknown to its proponents, but known to others. The two agendas lie in two different panes of the Johari Window.
This seems paradoxical: how can the proponent of a blind agenda be unaware of it? One example is a set of individual differences related to what psychologists call the need for cognitive closure, which is the need for definite knowledge about some issue, the need for clarity, or the need to make a decision on the open question.
For any given situation, different individuals can experience different perceived needs for cognitive closure. These differences can arise from differences in perceptions of the urgency of the situation, or from differences in disposition. Some people will usually feel a greater need than others do, while some people might see greater urgency in the shared situation than others do.
What is most fascinating about these individual differences is that many of us believe that our own sense of need for closure is the most appropriate. Even in small groups, we're usually unaware — or we easily forget — that the sensed need for cognitive closure is personal, and that differences are inevitable.
Whatever our level of need for cognitive closure in a given situation, we sometimes incorporate into our contributions to discussions some thoughts that are motivated mostly by our desire either for closure or for further deliberation. Usually, when we do, we don't realize that we are blind to our own agendas.
Since no Many of us believe that
our own sense of need
for closure is the
most appropriateparticular point on the spectrum of need for cognitive closure is inherently correct for all situations, a group is stronger when it finds among its members a variety of needs for cognitive closure. But when the group polarizes around the question of urgency itself, not realizing that judgments about urgency are often personal and subjective, it is on a path that leads to the swamp.
When you next find yourself in a meeting in which some want to make a decision now and others want to think more carefully, watch as the former characterize the latter as ditherers or perfectionists, while the latter characterize the former as rushing or careless. When you see this, blind agendas might be playing a role.
Individual differences in the need for cognitive closure are not the only possible blind agenda. Any individual difference can serve. The desire for elegance, adherence to convention, the need for structure, and even allowance for individual differences are good examples. What have you seen lately? Top Next Issue
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For more about differences and disagreements, see "Appreciate Differences," Point Lookout for March 14, 2001; "When You Think They've Made Up Their Minds," Point Lookout for May 21, 2003; "Towards More Gracious Disagreement," Point Lookout for January 9, 2008; and "Is the Question 'How?' or 'Whether?'," Point Lookout for August 31, 2011.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel
that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct.
What is going on?
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Group Dynamics
- When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster,
it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The
source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- 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.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources
are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
- Preventing Sidebars
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How
can we prevent them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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