Meeting hijacking is widely defined as the result of the behavior of an individual who insists that the meeting participants discuss his or her preferred topic, instead of whatever is currently on the agenda. Although that situation could be a hijacking, the problem is both subtler and more complex.
In the next issue, we'll catalog techniques hijackers use to hijack meetings. For now, let's explore why people try to hijack meetings.
In what follows, I'll use the names Horace or Harriet to refer to the attempted hijacker, in place of the awkward form "he or she."
- Some people hijack meetings to gain control of the group. They care less about content than they do about controlling the process. For example, they might want to undermine the chair's authority, hoping to demonstrate the chair's unsuitability for the role. Or they might be acting on behalf of powerful people, who might not even be present, if those people want the group to fail in its mission, for political reasons. Motivations abound.
- Those who seek control of the meeting are not always "control addicts." Sometimes people seek control quite rationally, if for nefarious purposes.
- Urgent sincerity
- When Horace The choice of response to hijack
attempts depends to some extent
on the motives of the hijackersurgently and sincerely believes that an issue must be addressed immediately, and when private attempts to convince the chair have failed to do so, he might attempt a hijacking. In one variety of urgent sincerity, Horace is laboring under a misapprehension of the actual issues facing the meeting. He might be either confused or misled by others. One can, after all, be sincerely mistaken.
- Horace can accept that the matter won't be addressed, or alternatively, he can try to persuade the other participants during the meeting. The latter alternative fits most definitions of hijacking. Appropriate responses to such actions differ markedly from responses to the more nefarious control-motivated tactics.
- Harriet might not actually care much about the agenda she's disrupting, but she does disrupt it because of an agreement she made with someone who does care. Typically this happens when Harriet's co-conspirator, Horace, cannot hijack the meeting himself. He might have acquired a reputation that has put the meeting chair on guard, or he might not be present. He might have an obvious conflict of interest that would undermine his direct attempts to hijack the meeting, whereas Harriet's attempts might be more likely to appear to be sincere.
- Most conspiracies are easily detected, but they often escape consideration as possible explanations for hijacking behavior because the idea seems so elaborate. Some feel reluctant to share the thought of conspiracy with others for fear of seeming "paranoid," to use the term in the lay sense. Conspiracies are most effective when they target people who can't accept their existence.
Motivations for hijack attempts vary widely. Your choice of response depends on what you think is actually happening. We'll examine hijacking techniques next time, and prevention in the issue after that. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
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or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few
tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- Virtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
- If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees
are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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