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:
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations
- Difficult conversations can be so scary to contemplate that many of us delay them until difficult conversations
become impossible conversations. Here are some tips for preparing for difficult conversations.
- Stonewalling: I
- Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction used by those who wish to stall the forward progress of some
effort. Whether the effort is a rival project, an investigation, or just the work of a colleague, the
stonewaller hopes to gain advantage. What can you do about stonewalling?
- Grace Under Fire: I
- If you're ever in a tight spot in a meeting, one in which you must defend your actions or past decisions,
the soundness of your arguments can matter less than your demeanor. What can you do when someone intends
to make you "lose it?"
- Conceptual Mondegreens
- When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause
can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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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.