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.
Next time, we'll examine tactics you can use for the meeting itself. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question,
or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being
attacked. What can you do?
- Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
- "Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot,
it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and
hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among
their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use
that make trouble.
- Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions
between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing
that issue. Here are three examples.
See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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