Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 26;   June 27, 2012: When the Chair Is a Bully: II

When the Chair Is a Bully: II

by

Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)

Congessman Darryl Issa, Republican of California, speaking in Congress in 2011. As Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Issa was chair of a hearing on the recently enacted health care reform law. As Chair, he had control of the witness list. One of the witnesses he chose to exclude was Sandra Fluke, who was nominated as a witness by the minority party. Ms. Fluke would have testified to the need for the law's provisions with respect to the prescription of medically necessary contraceptives, a position with which Rep. Issa disagreed.

In barring Ms. Fluke's testimony, Rep. Issa's actions provide us with an example of a bully chair ejecting those regarded as challengers. Photo courtesy U.S. Government General Accountability Office.

We conduct meetings to facilitate collaboration. We collaborate because we believe that groups have more and better answers and insights than individuals do. But some meeting chairs take a different approach. Instead of eliciting contributions from everyone, these bully chairs impose their own views on the group, limiting the contributions of the attendees.

To impose their will successfully, they cloak their intentions in the appearance of collaboration. They find ways to make the imposition of their will seem necessary and proper. Here's Part II of a collection of tactics used by bully chairs. See "When the Chair Is a Bully: I," Point Lookout for June 20, 2012, and "When the Chair Is a Bully: III," Point Lookout for July 4, 2012, for more.

Ejecting those regarded as challengers
Since bully chairs often have influence over the attendee list, they can sometimes choose not to invite those they regard as troublemakers. If the definition of making trouble is disagreeing with the chair, or criticizing positions that the chair favors, group decision quality suffers.
When an attendee stops attending, and you suspect that the absence is a result of the chair's actions, the meeting is deprived of the contributions of someone who was initially regarded as a valuable contributor. Log these incidents. They contribute to the picture of the bullying pattern, and they demonstrate how the bullying is degrading the meeting's performance.
Limiting the participation of those who cannot be ejected
Social, political, or organizational structures protect some attendees from ejection by the chair. Nevertheless, the chair might be able to limit attendee participation in ways that seem innocent or constructive. For instance, the chair might delegate to a carefully selected "task force" the responsibility for making a recommendation to the meeting as a whole. That recommendation might then be subjected to limited discussion, which constrains disfavored attendees as they try to modulate the recommendation.
By themselves, these tactics don't support charges of bullying. But in the context of an array of tactics targeted at disfavored individuals, they can be convincing evidence of the chair's abuse of power.
Abusing technology to limit participation
A more modern tactic for limiting participation Instead of eliciting contributions
from everyone, bully chairs impose
their own views on the group
of disfavored attendees entails moving meeting discussions to electronic media that the disfavored attendees cannot access conveniently or cannot access with regularity, or which they do not have time to learn how to use effectively. This tactic has the appearance of fairness, but still manages to limit the effectiveness of the disfavored.
These decisions can help demonstrate the chair's bias if the chair has strongly advocated for using the technologies over the strenuous objections of the disfavored. The chair's actions become more clearly questionable if incorrect decisions result from inadequate airing of issues due to technology-based restriction of the participation of disfavored attendees.

We conclude this examination of the tactics of bully chairs next time, with a discussion of tactics that exploit the form of the meeting. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: When the Chair Is a Bully: III  Next Issue

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Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed HawkBiological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying
When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
A U.S. Marine sniper wearing sniper camouflage gear known as a "ghillie" suitHow Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: II
To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely to work.
Oakland Coliseum, home field of the Oakland A'sWe Can 'Moneyball' Bullying
Capturing data about incidents of bullying is helpful in creating awareness of the problem. But it's like trying to drive a car by looking only in the rearview mirror. Forward-looking data that predicts bullying incidents is also necessary.
A figure-eight loop, also known as a Flemish LoopDouble Binds at Work
At work, a double bind arises when someone in authority makes contradictory demands of a subordinate, who has no alternative but to choose among options that all lead to unwelcome results. Double binds are far more common than most of us realize.
A mallet. The same object can be either a tool or a weaponOvert Verbal Abuse at Work
Verbal abuse in the workplace involves using written or spoken language to disparage, to disadvantage, or to otherwise harm others. Perpetrators tend to favor tactics that they can subsequently deny having used to harm anyone.

See also Workplace Bullying and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A form of off road driving also known as mud boggingComing November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
Tuckman's stages of group developmentAnd on December 7: 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. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

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