Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 48;   November 30, 2016: How to Hijack Meetings

How to Hijack Meetings

by

Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse. Here are some of those tactics.
A leopard stalking its prey

A leopard stalking its prey. In this slinking gait, leopards (and most cats) achieve stealth by limiting the ability of the prey animal to notice their movements. Other contributions to stealth include the leopard's coloration, and, in this instance, the use of the tree for cover.

Meeting hijackers can achieve stealth by means of seemingly innocent overt actions, and by undertaking less-than-innocent actions out of the awareness of most meeting participants. The former are analogous to the slinking gait of the cat, while the latter are analogous to using a tree for cover. Photo (cc) Sharp Photography courtesy WikiMedia.

Disclaimer: I am not advocating meeting hijacking. If meetings are orderly, and conducted fairly and with respect for all participants, hijacking is an unethical abuse. It's a means of achieving results disrespectfully and unfairly. Understanding the tactics of meeting hijackers is therefore a sound basis for controlling their behavior and limiting their success. With that goal, I offer this field manual for aspiring hijackers.

Be stealthy
Conceal your intentions. Stealth delays the response of anyone intent on keeping the meeting on track.
Various tactics seem innocent, but actually are helpful to you, the hijacker. For example, if the chair doesn't create an agenda, or if the agenda is weak, offer to write (or improve) the agenda before the meeting. Or to keep an item off the agenda, in advance of the meeting, propose other items that might pack the agenda, so there won't be time enough to address items you don't favor. Or encourage others to propose additional agenda items. If agenda packing doesn't work, don't oppose addressing the disfavored item. That just alerts people to your objective. Find other ways to freeze out the disfavored item. Pushing it off to the end of the meeting can work, if other items take longer than expected — a condition that you can bring about yourself.
Be judicious about personal attacks
It's important to undermine the credibility of any meeting participants who oppose your maneuvers. Because doing so in public is a tad risky, do it privately in advance. Find ways to suggest arguments to others, or to raise questions about the integrity of your opponents, or to subtly encourage others to attack your opponents, either before or during the meeting.
The credibility-destroying Understanding the tactics of meeting
hijackers is a sound basis for
controlling their behavior
and limiting their success
information you provide need not actually be true. To protect yourself, you can cite unnamed sources: "I heard that…" or "I saw a report somewhere that…"
Disrupt the parking lot or not-agenda
If a topic you want to address has been allocated to the parking lot or not-agenda, raise it anyway, along with a persuasive case for addressing it immediately. This tactic is also helpful for agenda packing to prevent discussion of disfavored items.
Caution: using this tactic more than once per meeting risks exposing your hijacking attempt for what it is.
Exploit the power to write history
Volunteer to be the meeting scribe or secretary. In case all your attempts failed, and the disfavored item was actually addressed, or an item you did favor was not addressed, you can "adjust" the meeting minutes to reflect your favored outcome, whatever that was. You can do this even if you aren't the official scribe, if you distribute your version first.
As the official scribe, don't be too heavy-handed. The minutes must bear some resemblance to reality, if you ever want another opportunity to use this tactic. Bend the truth — twist it into knots if necessary — but don't break it in any undisputable way.

Have you seen these tactics in use in your meetings? Next time, we'll explore some preventative tactics. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Preventing Meeting Hijacking  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

The rabbit that went down the rabbit holeOur Last Meeting Together
You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
A globe puzzleVirtual Brainstorming: I
When we need to brainstorm, meeting virtually carries a risk that our results might be problematic. Here's Part I of some steps to take to reduce the risk.
A railroad switchThe 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?
A working meetingFormulaic Utterances: III
Formulaic utterances are phrases that follow a pre-formed template. They're familiar, and they have standard uses. "For example" is an example. In the workplace, some of them can help establish or maintain dominance and credibility. Some do the opposite.
A jumbled jigsaw puzzleToxic Disrupters: Responses
Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but their techniques are predictable. If we've identified someone as using these techniques we have available a set of effective actions that can guide him or her toward a more productive role.

See also Effective Meetings and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

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