In some meetings, we interrupt each other, we insult each other, we condescend to each other, and we can be bitingly sarcastic. Formally, it's the responsibility of the meeting lead or facilitator to deal with these behaviors. When they fail in these responsibilities, the abusive behavior likely continues or escalates.
In these situations, there are at least four roles. The Aggressor initiates the abusive behavior. The Target is the object of the Aggressor. The Lead has formal responsibility for maintaining decorum. Bystanders are present, but in any given incident, they aren't Targets. Often, multiple people occupy these roles, and sometimes an individual might play more than one role. But for simplicity let's assume that each person plays only one role. And I'll assume, dear reader, that you've been either a Target or a Bystander.
To end the abuse, Targets and uncomfortable Bystanders turn first to the Lead. Often, they learn that the issue is already being addressed. But what are their options if the Lead doesn't feel responsible for dealing with these issues? Or what if the Lead is unable to deal with the problem, because of incompetence or fear or whatever — what then?
If abuse is part of the culture, dealing with each Aggressor individually is of little use, because there are so many other Aggressors. On the other hand, if the Aggressor's behavior is unusual in the organizational culture, progress is possible. I'll address the cultural problem in a future issue. For now, let's examine the case in which abuse isn't part of the cultural pattern.
Let's suppose further that the Aggressors don't see their behavior as abusive, or if they do, they either don't care, or they haven't responded to private intervention. Now what?
The guiding principle is Do No Harm. In this Part I, let's first address what you cannot do.
In this scenario, the Aggressor's behavior is problematic, and the Lead is failing to address the problem of the Aggressor's behavior. Both failures are performance issues.
Only The guiding principle
is Do No Harmsupervisors can address performance issues effectively. Unless you're the Lead's supervisor or the Aggressor's supervisor, it isn't your responsibility to correct their performance issues. You can talk to the supervisor of the Lead, to the supervisor of the Aggressor, to your own supervisor, or to a Human Resources representative, but that's about it. It's up to them to address the performance issues.
This picture might seem bleak. I'm offering no magic solutions to these performance issues. But it's important to recognize that dealing with performance issues is the responsibility of supervisors, not colleagues. If you try to insert yourself into the supervisor-subordinate relationship, you will most likely complicate the problem.
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- An Emergency Toolkit
- You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target
of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond,
but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
- Social Safety Margins
- As our personal workloads increase, we endure more stress and more time pressure. Inevitably, we have
less time for the social niceties that protect us from accidentally hurting each other's feelings. When
are we most at risk of incidental harm, and what can we do about it?
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- On Snitching at Work: II
- Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you
to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.
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.