Last time, we began to explore what we can do when heated exchanges occur in meetings, if the meeting lead either can't or won't address the problem. We saw that as meeting participants, there are some choices to avoid, because they probably won't work. The question remains: what can we do?
Here are some tactics that can be helpful in specific circumstances. In what follows, the term aggressor denotes the initiator of the attack, and target denotes the object of the attack.
- Notice your own anger early
- Noticing your own anger can give you the warning needed to avoid explosions. When you do get angry, notice your own physical responses. Write down a description, or describe your feelings to yourself aloud. Articulating the experience of anger can help you remember what anger feels like.
- Later, when you recognize your own anger, take a breath or two. Give your brain the time and oxygen it needs to find a different path.
- Refuse to engage
- Because Aggressors usually select the timing and content of the attack, Targets are often taken by surprise, which gives Aggressors significant advantages. Targets who can consistently respond effectively when taken by surprise do indeed have a rare talent.
- Even if the Target does possess such talent, engaging the Aggressor almost certainly takes the Target off point. There's little to gain by engagement. Instead, if you're targeted when speaking, stick to your plan. You've been interrupted, and you might even have been asked a question. Don't respond.
- Seek allies
- Ganging up on the Aggressor can be very effective. Preferably, the entire alliance petitions the meeting lead for redress, but we're assuming that that approach has failed. A less preferred alternative is direct action in the meeting itself. When an offense occurs, the alliance members can object in unison directly to the Aggressor, without waiting for recognition by the chair.
- The risks of confrontation tactics can be mitigated in two ways. First, rehearsals can make people more comfortable with the action, and help build unity of purpose. A second approach is increasing alliance size. There truly is safety in numbers.
- Know the range of retaliatory tactics
- Retaliatory Because Aggressors usually select
the timing and content of the
attack, Targets are often taken by
surprise, which gives Aggressors
significant advantagestactics might be effective when the interrupter is a well-meaning individual who got a little carried away. Examples of retaliatory tactics:
- Wait for the interrupter to finish or pause, then ignore what has been said and continue, "As I was saying…"
- Overtalk the interrupter by repeatedly saying, "Stop talking please, I had the floor…"
- Offer any number of sarcastic comments such as, "Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting."
- Caution: retaliatory tactics don't work on confirmed abusers. Use retaliation with care, and in combination with support from allies.
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Hurtful Clichés: II
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
- Ending Conversations
- At times, we need to end the current conversation. It's going nowhere, or we have something important
to do, or we just don't want to deal with the other person. Here are some suggestions for ending conversations.
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets
long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure.
Here are just a few.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: II
- When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually
exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence
of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each
other, we can all help prevent trouble.
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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