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.
Remember that these measures are only a poor second choice. Addressing the problem of heated meetings is really the responsibility of the meeting lead. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The Fine Art of Quibbling
- We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares
of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can
be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- New Ideas: Experimentation
- In collaborative problem solving, teams sometimes perform experiments to help choose a solution. These
experiments sometimes lead to trouble. What are the troubles and how can we avoid them?
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates.
Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
- Reframing Revision Resentment: II
- When we're required to revise something previously produced — prose, designs, software, whatever,
we sometimes experience frustration with those requiring the revisions. Here are some alternative perspectives
that can be helpful.
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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