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:
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- How to Avoid Responsibility
- Taking responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable are the hallmarks of either a rising
star in a high-performance organization, or a naïve fool in a low-performance organization. Either
way, you must know the more popular techniques for avoiding responsibility.
- Handling Heat: II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's
participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
- Overtalking: II
- Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it
happens, what can we do about it?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: IV
- Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some
are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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