In some groups or teams, dissent can be personally risky wherever it occurs — hallway conversation, email, meetings, over lunch, wherever. Last time we described general-purpose techniques some group Leaders use to suppress dissent. In meetings, though, leaders have a wide array of tools for effectively suppressing dissent.
I'm not advocating techniques for suppressing dissent, which is almost always unwise, and probably unethical. Rather, I offer this inventory as a guide to help people recognize patterns of abuse.
- Controlling the time and place of meetings
- Leaders acting in good faith try to schedule meetings to enable most people to attend. If schedule or location (real or virtual) must change, they announce changes to everyone as soon as possible. Leaders who are determined to create attendance obstacles for specific people, such as Dissenters, can choose times and places accordingly. And they can distribute change announcements accordingly, too.
- Controlling invitation and distribution lists
- By omitting Dissenters from meeting invitation lists or email distribution lists, Leaders can reduce the probability that Dissenters will receive important information, or be able to attend meetings, whether or not the information or meeting agenda is relevant to the substance of the dissent. These schemes can thus create what appear to be performance issues for Dissenters, which can affect their stature and credibility.
- Abusing agenda responsibility
- Leaders, who are typically responsible for meeting agendas, can adjust agendas to the disadvantage of Dissenters. Scheduling items so as to make Dissenters' own schedules more difficult, or allocating too little time to Dissenters' items, can create obstacles for Dissenters.
- Abusing the parking lot
- The Those who become accustomed to
suppressing dissent sometimes
experience expressions of
disagreement as challenges
to their personhood"parking lot" is a list of topics that arise during a meeting, but which aren't closely enough related to the agenda to warrant immediate attention. The Leader can arrange to "park" any points Dissenters raise, whether or not they're eligible for parking according to the usual criteria. And after the meeting, instead of dealing with the Dissenter's parked items, the Leader can arrange for them to be quietly ignored. For more about the parking lot, see "Using the Parking Lot," Point Lookout for September 12, 2007.
- Abusing the facilitator's prerogatives
- Many Leaders also facilitate their own meetings. As facilitators, they can influence the flow of their meetings by recognizing attendees who wish to comment or contribute to the discussion. They can decide what comments are germane, and they can interrupt contributors. When a contributor is speaking, and another attendee interrupts, Leaders can be selective about halting such interruptions. Although people generally frown upon arbitrariness in exercising the facilitator's prerogatives, in most organizations, attendees can't do much more. Objecting to a Leader's meeting management practices can be risky.
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More articles on Devious Political Tactics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
- Why People Hijack Meetings
- When as Chair of a meeting, you have difficulty completing a reasonable agenda, you might be the target
of a hijacking. Here's Part I of a series exploring meeting hijacking.
- How to Hijack Meetings
- Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse.
Here are some of those tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.