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
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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:
- Games for Meetings: II
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus
on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
a productive technique for reaching agreement.
- Is the Question "How?" or "Whether?"
- In group decision-making, tension sometimes develops between those who favor commitment to the opportunity
at hand, and those who repeatedly ask, "If we do that, how will we do it?" Why does this happen?
- Characterization Risk
- To characterize is to offer a description of a person, event, or concept. Characterizations are usually
judgmental, and usually serve one side of a debate. And they often make trouble.
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem
is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional
activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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