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?
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- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's
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- Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which
some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the
credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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.
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